Why Are So Many People Turning to the Flexitarian Diet?

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It’s no secret that a global shift in the way we think about and consume food, especially meat and dairy products, has been taking place over the past few decades. Thanks to organizations like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), individuals like Greta Thunberg, and lots of data put to use by journalists, writers, and climate advocates alike, we’re all becoming more aware of the impact our individual diets can and do have on the environment. 

Cutting back on meat either partially or entirely is something many of us (about 25% of Americans) find ourselves both able and willing to do in order to play our part in fighting climate change, and being vegetarian or vegan no longer means you’re confined to the fringe—more and more options for plant-based dining and various meat or dairy substitutes are becoming widely available. For those that want to keep meat and dairy products in our diets, but are looking to scale them back for the health of ourselves or the planet, the flexitarian diet might just be the best answer. So what is it and why is it so popular? Let’s find out.

What Exactly is the Flexitarian Diet?

Also known as semi-vegetarianism, the flexitarian (flexible vegetarian) diet can be defined as “a diet that is centered around plant and plant-based foods, with the occasional inclusion of meat.” According to a survey conducted by Ipsos in 2018, 14% of the world was adhering to a flexitarian diet, compared to just 5% vegetarian and 3% vegan. 

What is the Flexitarian Diet

The flexitarian diet focuses on eating mostly plant-based foods, with about 50% of each meal made up of vegetables, while also allowing followers to include meat occasionally, usually between 1 to 3 times per week.

While there’s no real consensus when it comes to how much or how little meat can be in your diet for you to be considered a flexitarian, it’s generally agreed that a flexitarian would eat meat, poultry, or fish just 1 to 3 times per week. In addition to scaling back your meat consumption in this way, many flexitarians also aim to re-portion their plates with about 50% of each meal being made up of vegetables—the other 50% consisting of fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Many flexitarians still include dairy products like cheese and yogurt, and even eggs, into their diets, though also at reduced rates.

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Why Is Flexitarianism So Popular?

While many people have criticized the flexitarian diet for being the “cheater’s vegetarianism” and the name of the diet itself has come under fire since it’s an oxymoron (the diet is an omnivorous one, not really a vegetarian one), flexitarianism doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Vegetarians and vegans might think it noncommittal, but for many omnivores who love their burgers, steaks, and platters of shrimp, it’s actually a purposeful and significant choice to become flexitarian and move away from eating meat on a daily basis.

The diet itself was popularized in the early 2010s thanks to dieting Dawn Jackson Blatner’s book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life (with many flexitarian cookbooks and books being published since then), and the term flexitarian hit the mainstream in 2012 when it was added to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. How interested you are in becoming flexitarian probably has a lot to do with your age, but according to this survey, 63% millennials are interested in the diet—a number only likely to increase as plant-based meats become more widely available, according to Nielsen.

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