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Flexitarianism Unpacked

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Audrey Priscilla, a young traveller and writer, unpacks the Flexitarian diet: why you would want to adopt it, what foods you can eat and how to meal-prep like a pro. This article offers personal insight from one flexitarian.

Image Credit: Victoria Shes on Unsplash

Disclaimer: If you are vulnerable or suffering a medical condition, consult with a medical professional before embarking on this dietary transition. Also, consider supplementing B12 since this presents itself rarely in plant-based food.


I am a flexitarian and I have been since I was 15. I’ve oscillated between vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan and flexitarian and for me, flexitarianism is the most long-lasting, self-accepting and open-minded approach. For those of you unfamiliar with flexitarianism, it’s the new coined term for those of us who try our best to lean toward vegetarian and vegan food but who simply aren’t perfect. Hey, we’re only human after all! I am a true believer in freedom rather than restriction. This idea goes all the way back to Adam and Eve; the forbidden fruit is the most desired because we crave what we can’t have. Especially if the temptation is within our reach.


Cognitive studies regarding eating habits have shown that people who diet and/or restrict their intake of certain foods are more likely to overeat or indulge in said unhealthy food. This is sometimes known as the ‘what the hell’ effect because the person thinks they may as well continue eating now they have started. The same applies to veganism – if you completely restrict the consumption of meat and animal products, you may be more likely to give up this lifestyle altogether.


Why would I want to move TOWARD plant-based eating?


Each person may have a different reason for adopting a more plant-based diet because humans are individual creatures with different values and beliefs. For some, it may be environmental and for others it could be health reasons. I suggest writing your unique reason(s) on a piece of paper in your journal or on your fridge so you can be reminded of your motivation. Refer to my list for inspiration.


Environmental


Plant-based diets can reduce your carbon footprint on the environment. See figure below:

According to one Climate Calculator, eating 75g of beef daily for a year is equivalent to driving 7196 miles, whereas eating 150g of beans daily only takes you 93 miles. For reference, 75g of beef is one hamburger and 150g of beans is only a third of a can.


Growing plants is far less energy intensive than cultivating livestock. If the entire world switched to plant-based eating, we could reduce farmland by 75%, water usage by 25% and water pollution by 80%.


By reducing the space required to farm, we could restore land the size of Africa back to nature and forest, which would help offset greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.


Animal welfare


Opposing the unjust living environments of animals.


Decreasing ‘demand’ for meat in the supply chain so less animals are killed.


Health


Reducing meat consumption lowers cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels are associated with many cardiovascular diseases since the plaque of cholesterol can accumulate in coronary arteries and restrict blood flow. The Lancet Medical Journal 2019 predicted that if people adopted a plant-predominant diet, 12 million deaths could be prevented per year.


Eating plant-based food improves longevity. If Blue Zones (zones of the world that have a higher average life expectancy of around 10 years) are any indication of health, the plant-based diet is a healthy one. Half of the people living in Blue Zones are vegetarian and those that eat meat have a plant-predominant diet with very low consumption rates of meat (15g per day).


Personally, I started eating Flexitarian because it aligned with my values to do what I can to mitigate climate change. Now, climate analysts are confirming that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest action individuals can take. This is amazing, right? Because it isn’t anything extravagant like sun-reflecting mirrors in space, it is a simple choice that we can all make to better our planet.


Within a week of switching my diet, I knew in my gut that it was the right decision. I felt happier, healthier and more energetic. This might not be the case for everyone but if you don’t try it, you will never know. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is NOW” (Chinese Proverb).

Image Credit: Ralph Ravi Kayden on Unsplash

What can I eat as a Flexitarian?


Flexitarianism is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. The label merely indicates your intention but besides that, there is no limitation of what you can eat. However, this isn’t a jail free card, remember your reasons why you want to move toward plant-based eating and be conscious in your food choices. You vote with your wallet! What you pay for, is what you choose to support, so be mindful and informed about what you are spending money on. Do I need to buy a cow milk coffee or could I experiment with oat milk today? Do I need to cook lasagna with beef or could I use lentils instead?


Additionally, what you put in your mouth is what you are fuelling and nourishing your body with. Plant-based eating is “food that loves you as much as you love it back” (Sadia Badiei).


How to be prepared?


Pick Up Lime’s Beginner’s Guide to Veganism emphasises the importance of being prepared. When starting your transition to plant-based eating use a Weekly Meal Planner (see below), research some quick, easy recipes with some of your favourite ingredients, write a shopping list, stock up on pantry essentials: lentils, rice, pasta, chickpeas, seeds & nuts, use mock meats or pre-marinated tofu to begin with, and schedule some extra time for cooking.

Weekly Meal Planner pdf. Credit: Pick Up Limes

Example 


Breakfast: Savoury Muffins that can be Made, Frozen & Reheated


Grocery List:

– Oats – Sun-dried tomatoes – Pumpkin seeds – Tofu – Oat milk – Cherry tomatoes – Dates – Almond butter – Avocado – Rye sandwich bread – Cucumber – Hummus – Onion – Garlic – Celery – Mushrooms – Risotto Rice – Spinach – Nutritional yeast

*make sure you check your fridge & pantry before making the list to see what you already have and remember you can modify the recipes as you like!

I strongly advise subscribing to Pick Up Lime’s youtube and pinning their website to your browser. Pick Up Limes was started by Sadia Badiei, a registered dietitian, who is vegan and passionate about sharing nutritious food and uncomplicated ways to live a plant-based life. As you can see below, her Recipes page allows you to customise your search easily, selecting the type of recipe you desire, how much time you have to make it, allergies you have, ingredients you have to use up or ingredients you don’t like/don’t have. Once you’ve selected a recipe you can clearly see what it contains and what it is free from, and you can manipulate the serving size depending on how many people you are feeding. Incredible, right?



Pick Up Limes website page


When I was cooking for my family, my favourite Sunday afternoon activity was to meal-prep. I would write our grocery list in the morning, help my dad with the shop around midday and then I’d come back, unload the shop and do what I could to help my future self with dinners. Perhaps it was pre-cutting carrot and celery sticks and storing them in water, putting nuts and seeds into jars, dicing garlic and onion, pre-cooking a dinner that could be frozen like tagine or curry and/or batch-making my breakfast. Give this a go! Put a movie, podcast, audiobook or playlist on and be a legend to your future self.


This may seem like a lot more effort than throwing a steak on the grill but you will instantly feel the rewards. Enjoy the process and remind yourself that it all gets easier with time.

Image Credit: Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Counter-arguments to Anti-Vegan Claims


Locally produced beef is far better than soy products from deforested farmland in the Amazon → Ninety percent of soy produced from deforested farmland in the Amazon is used as feed for livestock, predominantly for the pig industry in China.


Switching to an electric car is far better than switching to a vegan diet → Switching to an electric car reduces greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 2 tons per person per year, whereas, a vegan diet can reduce emissions by up to 4 tons.


Almond milk is more energy intensive than cow’s milk → Drinking one glass of cow’s milk daily for a year produces more than 4 times more emissions than almond milk.


Plant-based foods are more expensive → In my personal experience, plant-based food is much cheaper. Think about it, a can of chickpeas, beans or lentils cost 70 pence/cents while a rump steak would be at least 7 pounds/dollars – 10 times the price. You can also soak legumes yourself and spend next to nothing for one generous portion of protein. Don’t like legumes? Simply add them to a curry or pasta sauce and let the spices transform them.


Plant-based diet doesn’t provide enough protein → On her plant-based nutrition podcast, Ella Mills points out that people often question vegans and vegetarians how they will obtain enough protein but no-one questions the hotdog-eater or McDonalds-goer how they obtain enough vitamin A and antioxidants, which are just as essential. Plant-based and animal-based protein contain the same amino acids, and plant protein actually comes in a bundle of vitamins, nutrients and fibre. On the other hand, animal protein is wrapped in cholesterol, saturated fat and chemicals that all increase your risk of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes type 2 and atherosclerosis. Would you rather eat protein in a gut-loving, nutritious way or a self-destructive way? Being flexitarian is about being more mindful with your food choices, therefore you are more likely to ensure you get a healthy balance rather than grabbing food at hand and eating it unconsciously.


Our ancestors’ diet and our biology indicates that eating meat is natural for humans → We have to understand that while our biology hasn’t necessarily evolved between the caveman and the 21st century man, our environment has changed significantly. Cavemen were trying to survive the day without being killed or malnourished. They had to find food – particularly high calorie food – wherever they could find it – in both plants and meat. Nowadays, we have an array of options at our fingertips and we can make ethical, informed decisions to better our world and our body.


Additional Helpful Resources



I hope I’ve been able to provide some empirical insight into the Flexitarian diet and why I believe it is an easy and nourishing transition you can make to better your health, animals’ health and the planet’s health.


About the Author: Audrey Priscilla is an environment enthusiast who has taken a gap year between high school and university. In an unexpected twist of fate, she found herself backpacking through Europe. When she isn’t exploring the rich European culture and history, you could find her writing poetry, hiking in nature or cooking tasty plant-based food.

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