What is a flexitarian diet?
Plant-based diets are increasingly popular, but what are the health benefits of being a flexitarian? We asked a dietitian to give her view…
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Recipe pictured above: Vegetable tagine with apricot quinoa
Flexitarianism or 'casual vegetarianism' is an increasingly popular, plant-based diet that claims to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health with an eating regime that's mostly vegetarian yet still allows for the occasional meat dish. The rise of the flexitarian diet is a result of people taking a more environmentally sustainable approach to what they eat by reducing their meat consumption in exchange for alternative protein sources.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and also check out some of our delicious plant-based recipes, from vegan chilli to tarka dhal.
We asked dietitian Emer Delaney for her view...
What does 'flexitarian' mean?
Following a flexitarian diet highlights an increased intake of plant-based meals without completely eliminating meat. It is about adding new foods to your diet as opposed to excluding any, which can be extremely beneficial for health. These plant-based foods include lentils, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, all excellent sources of protein.
It is also widely accepted that soluble fibre found in lentils and beans helps to reduce high cholesterol as part of a healthy diet, so including these regularly is definitely recommended. Nuts and seeds such as linseed (flaxseed), pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts are high in the heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats which help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and provide essential fatty acids. Research has shown that practicing a flexitarian diet in conjunction with physical activity can promote a lifestyle consistent with recommendations for reducing risks of breast and prostate cancer.
Read more about high fibre diets.
What are the healthiest meats to include?
When people do choose to eat meat, opting for good quality lean meat is best, such as chicken or turkey. I would advise having processed meats such as bacon, sausages, salami, ham and pâtés very occasionally as they are high in both saturated fat and salt and provide very little in the way of vitamins and minerals. Research from the World Health Organisation found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day may increase the risk of colorectal cancer, so it's best to limit these foods.
Read more about how much meat is safe to eat.
How can I ensure I’m getting all the nutrients I need from a flexitarian diet?
If you're thinking about changing to a flexitarian diet, I would advise plant-based foods at every meal, at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and wholegrain foods. It is a good idea to include alternative sources of iron that may be lacking due to a low intake of red meat. Good sources include low sugar, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli. As vitamin C increases iron absorption, a small glass (150ml) of fruit juice or salad items like sweet peppers, lamb's lettuce and tomatoes with meals is recommended.
Read more about how to get enough iron as a vegetarian.
Flexitarian recipe suggestions...
Vegetable tagine with apricot quinoa
Double bean & roasted pepper chilli
Indian sweet spotato dhal pies
Spring chicken in a pot
Spicy chicken salad with broccoli
Like this? Read more...
What counts as five-a-day?
What is a balanced diet for vegetarians?
This article was last reviewed on 4th July 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
A nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
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