What is a flexitarian diet and how can it help the planet?

You’ve probably heard by now that adopting a plant-based diet is one of the most effective changes we can make to reduce our footprint on the planet. However, we are mostly brought up being told that meat, fish, dairy and eggs are essential for our health. So taking the plunge into plant-based eating is not as simple as just switching overnight. There can also be other barriers, such as budget, additional needs or lack of accessibility. Enter flexitarianism – an approach pretty much anyone can take on. But what is a flexitarian and how can becoming one help the planet?

plant-based burger loaded with lots of toppings on a black background

4 minutes to read

What is a flexitarian diet?

Being a flexitarian is exactly the kind of approach to sustainable living that we love here at Ailuna. We know that making huge changes to your habits can be daunting and the fear of failure can make you want to give up altogether. We believe in tiny steps leading to great change. So what is a flexitarian diet and why is it a great place to start?

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In short, a flexitarian is someone who is actively trying to reduce their intake of meat and other animal products, without the pressure of having to stick to something that feels restrictive or even having to discuss your decision with family and friends. (Believe me, those words “I’m vegan now” can trigger some interesting reactions!).

Flexitarians try to incorporate a number of plant-based meals into their diets, usually focusing on fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, rather than meat replacements. But plant-based “meat” has its place too, and if you’d rather transition from your steak dinner to a mock beefburger rather than a bean burger, that’s flexitarian too! 

How can a flexitarian diet help the planet?

Any kind of reduction in consumption of animal products has a positive effect on climate change. The majority of meat-eaters aren’t ready to go fully plant-based. But if 100 people committed to eating one meat-free meal per week for a year, that’s 5,200 animal-free meals. It would take one vegan nearly 5 years to get to that point. So it’s much quicker for the masses to take on flexitarianism than it is to convince fewer people to become fully plant-based.

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So if anyone tries to tell you being flexitarian is a cop-out, don’t listen to them. Your small changes could make a huge difference, especially when your friends and family see your exciting meals and decide to give some of them a try for themselves. This is the kind of avalanche of change we love!

How often do flexitarians eat animal products?

This is another great thing about being a flexitarian –  there are no hard and fast rules! So whether you want to start with one plant-based meal a week, or drop down to one meat meal a week, everything helps. If you’d like some science to help make your decision, this article in the science journal Nature suggests that restricting red meat (the most harmful to the planet in terms of carbon footprint) to once a week is a great start.

Will becoming a flexitarian cost me more? 

It depends. If you are eating a diet that consists of in-season fruit and vegetables and whole foods such as beans, legumes and grains, then you shouldn’t find that your food bill rises. In fact, it might go down!

If, however, you are intrigued and excited by all the new plant-based products out there (this is me), then it can add up. Either way though, planning your meals in advance, batch cooking and aiming to reduce food waste as much as possible can all help the planet and your pocket.

What kinds of meals do flexitarians eat?

Anything goes, as long as your flexitarian meals contain fewer or no animal products. So if you want to have dairy cheese on your meat-free lasagne, or you go for a fully plant-based version, every tiny step you take is one that will help the planet.

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Remember, a million people doing something is better than none of them doing anything!

Next time, we will give some examples of the kinds of plant-based meals you could incorporate into your flexitarian diet, from easy family dinners to amazing dairy-free desserts and cakes!

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