Many of us have started to cut back on the amount of meat we eat for a variety of reasons - this type of dietary movement is now being referred to as a ‘flexitarian diet’. Flexitarians enjoy the benefits of a vegetarian diet with the occasional inclusion of meat and fish. There are no strict rules as to how to become a flexitarian - it could involve having a meat-free meal once a week whilst others may eat meat on rare occasions only.
The flexitarian way of eating is becoming increasingly popular as it allows flexibility to adapt the diet to fit with your lifestyle and adopt a sustainable diet. This can be done through eating more plant based proteins e.g. quinoa and lentils, eating better sources of meat and fish, cutting down on processed food, consuming more fresh food and reducing food waste.
So what are the health benefits and how can we make flexitarianism a sustained lifestyle choice?
Whether we tuck into a meat-free meal once a week or choosing to consume it only on rare occasions, reducing our intake has benefits to our health and our environment.
Good for our health
Processed meats typically contain higher levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers, for example bowel cancer. We are advised to consume no more than 70g red or processed meat per day. Reducing the consumption of these types of meats can reduce your risk of ill-health. A well balanced vegetarian diet will also be higher in fibre - increased consumption of foods like lentils and pulses in place of meat will increase your fibre intake which is very important for a healthy digestive system. Consuming these types of foods instead of meat will also ensure you still get adequate protein intake.
Good for our planet
Reports reveal that over 15,000 litres of water are required to produce a kilogram of beef and if meat consumption rises as predicted, the amount of water required to grow animal feed will need to double by the middle of this century1.
Agriculture and meat production also contributes to 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the consumption of meat can therefore support our environment as well as our health.
1Mekonnen, M & Hoekstra A (2012) A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products. Ecosystems 15, 401-415.