Flexitarian: Rise of the part-time vego

Does full-time vegetarianism seem like too much of a change? You can still get some of the benefits of a plant-based diet with a part-time approach. 

If the explosion of vegetarian and vegan food blogs, cookbooks and trendy cafes in recent years is anything to go by, the plant-based diet is having a major moment. 

While recent statistics are limited, according to Roy Morgan Research the number of Australians aged 14 or older who agree with the statement, ‘The food I eat is all, or almost all, vegetarian’ grew from 1.6 million in 2009 to 1.9 million as of June 2013 – that’s nearly one in 10 of us. 

A strict vegetarian diet generally excludes all meat, poultry and fish; and if you’re a vegan, you also need to cut out products derived from animals like gelatine, rennet and fish sauce. This can seem like a huge leap to make if you’re currently an omnivore. Enter flexitarianism – a casual, part-time approach to vegetarianism.

What exactly is a flexitarian?
A flexitarian is a semi-vegetarian, or someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, but occasionally eats meat. It may be that they eat vegetarian during the week and then eat animal products at the weekend, or that they only eat meat-based dishes when they are out with friends and sharing food. There is no set definition or rules – it’s basically a more relaxed version of vegetarianism that means you don’t have to give up your favourite meat-based dishes for good, which for some people is a more sustainable way of going plant-based.
What are the health benefits?
A plant-based diet isn’t just delicious, more eco-conscious, and often budget-friendly. It may have some compelling health benefits too. 

In a 2014 University College London study, scientists found that the more fruit and vegetables people eat, the greater their likelihood of a long life. The risk of death by cancer or cardiovascular disease dropped by 25 per cent and 31 per cent respectively for people who ate at least seven portions (classed in this study as an 80 gram serve) of fruit and veg a day. 

A plant-based diet is also linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and depression. Research also shows vegetarians tend to be slimmer, with a lower body mass index than meat-eaters. 

So, why all the health advantages? When it is balanced and varied, a plant-based diet tends to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in fibre and health-boosting nutrients like magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. 

How can I go flexitarian?

Every meal counts
You don’t need to overhaul your diet overnight. Even starting out with one vegetarian day a week, such as Meat Free Mondays, can be a great place to begin, then you can build up from there. For some people, progressively eliminating different types of meat from our diet (for instance, red meat, then pork, then chicken) can also help.

Make vegetarian versions of your favourite meals
Whether it’s lasagne or burgers, you can guarantee there’s an equally delicious vegetarian version of it. 

Being a flexitarian is also a great reason to flex your culinary creativity and experiment with new dishes. 

Try meat substitutes
Faux-meat products like burgers and mince are available in most major supermarkets as well as specialty stores and can help ease the transition away from meat towards a plant-based way of eating. Just make sure they’re healthier version that don’t have higher levels of saturated fat, salt or sugar added for taste. 

Be savvy about dining out
These days, most restaurants and cafés offer vegetarian versions or will happily accommodate your dietary needs, especially if you call up in advance. 
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