What is a flexitarian?

If you like vegetarian eating but want the flexibility for an occasional meat dish, a flexitarian approach is for you. Susie Burrell explains.

You already know all about vegetarian and vegan diets, and you may have even heard of the pescatarian and raw vegan diets, but have you heard of a flexitarian diet?

Mixing vegetarian or veganism with a regular omnivorous diet, a flexitarian eats mainly plant-based foods, but doesn’t worry about the occasional meat-based meal or animal ingredient. True to its name, the flexitarian diet is a flexible approach to your meals, giving you the health benefits of a plant-based diet without the restrictions of a full vegan or vegetarian approach.

There are many proven health benefits of eating a mostly plant-based diet, including lower body fat, an increased lifespan and a reduced risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. However, for people who enjoy a varied diet that includes a range of food from animal sources, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy, considering going cold turkey on all these foods can sometimes seem too difficult to even attempt.

A flexitarian approach is an easy way to strike a better nutritional balance — still enjoying your favourite animal food, but spending some time focusing on plant-based foods with a day or two of vegetarian or vegan style eating.

As part of a balanced diet, controlled portions of lean animal proteins can contribute to good health. Where we tend to go wrong is that our protein isn’t as lean as it should be, and our portions are too large. Australians are often consuming 2-3 times the recommended portion size of meat and downing litres of milk from many milk-based drinks like smoothies and coffee.

Reducing your intake of animal food can have big benefits for the environment and your body, fuelling it with a diet high in fibre, vitamins and minerals and lower in calories, even if it’s just for a day or two each week.

An easy way to start is to commit to a meat-free meal a couple of times each week. Try a vegetable soup, easy stir-fry, veggie pie, lentil dish or beans made into a curry or Mexican meal. The next step is to eat a lot more salad and vegetables as part of your daily diet; including a veggie juice in the morning, salad with your lunch and a few vegetable snacks is an easy way to plant up your diet. Finally, look for protein-rich plant-based snacks — hummus, vegan protein balls and nuts with are all nutrient rich, 100% plant-based snack foods to complement your flexitarian diet.

And if you get an occasional hankering for a steak or schnitzel, you can rest easy knowing that your body is benefitting from a plant-based diet, most of the time.