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Everything You Need To Know About The Flexitarian Diet

Lily Soutter decodes what the new diet trend 'Flexitarianism' really entails...

Flexitarianism is rapidly becoming the latest buzzword in the food world (just when we didn’t think there could be any more!). With campaigns like Meatless Mondays and popular #plantbased hash tags, this meat-reducing trend is catching on fast.

 

First things first, what is a flexitarian diet and what are the ground rules to join the club?

In short, it’s a vegetarian diet, which includes the occasional meat and fish. But is this a simple case of a cheating vegetarian or vegan trying to have their burger and eating it too?

 Whilst this is technically true, it hasn’t stopped the ever-increasing popularity of this diet trend. More than one third of people in the UK are now following a flexitarian diet with numbers set to grow by 10% this year alone.

According to Whole Foods, flexitariansim is going to be one of the biggest food trends of 2019. In fact many celebrities including the likes of Jamie Oliver, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Richard Branson are now following the mantra of ‘vegetables are the new meat’. Could this movement bring vegetarians and meat lovers together to finally find the perfect balance?

 

Before we jump on the bandwagon, let's first detangle the evidence. It’s important to know what’s hype and what’s fact…

 

Weight Loss, Diabetes and Blood Pressure

A promising 2017 review study, which analysed all papers covering flexitarianism between 2000-2016, concluded that the diet has benefits for body weight as well as type 2 diabetes and blood pressure (1). That’s a big tick from us.

 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

 But it doesn’t stop there; there is also some evidence to suggest that this part-time vegetarian diet may play a role in the treatment of digestive disorders including Crohns (2). Researchers believe these benefits may be down to the higher quantity of dietary fiber within the diet, which may reduce inflammation within the gut (3).

 

Cancer

Flexitarianism may also reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer (4), which could be due to the reduced consumption of red and processed meat. Despite this the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that it is only men that are exceeding the set 70 g/day whilst women are eating well below this at 47 g/day (5). In fact evidence suggests that 70% of flexitarians are educated females (1). So it sounds like it’s the men rather than women who may benefit from taking a page or two out of the flexitarians book. 

 

To sum things up…

Whilst there is positive research out there, we can’t ignore the fact that it’s almost impossible to define a flexitarian diet, and attempting to would defeat its flexible nature. But if we can’t quantify the amount of meat and fish that the average flexitarian consumes per week, then reviewing the evidence is even harder.

Further to this, these studies have analysed whole-food flexitarian diets which are a very different ball game to flexitarian diets are nutrient poor and high in white refined carbohydrates, sugar, and trans-fats.

 

The food and health industry love to put labels on things, and create hype about the next bit diet trend, which is easy to get sucked into. Whilst a healthy diet is all about balance and moderation, we can’t ignore the positive research which shows that including more plants and less meat within the diet comes with health benefits (whether you label your way of eating or not). 

 

 References
  1. Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Front Nutr (2017) 3:55
  2. Chiba M, Abe T, Tsuda H, Sugawara T, Tsuda S, Tozawa H, et al. Lifestyle-related disease in Crohn’s disease: relapse prevention by a semi-vegetarian diet. World J Gastroenterol (2010) 16(20):2484–95.
  3. Chiba M, Tsuji T, Nakane K, Komatsu M. High amount of dietary fiber not harmful but favorable for Crohn disease. Perm J (2015) 19(1):58–61.
  4. Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabate J, Fan J, Sveen L, Bennett H, et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancers. JAMA Intern Med (2015) 175(5):767–76.
  5. Bates B, Lennox A, Prentice A, Bates C, Page P, Nicholson S, et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey Results from Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 – 2011/2012). (2016). Available from: http://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-diet-and-nutrition-survey-results-from-years-1-to-4-combined-of-the-rolling-programme-for-2008-and-2009-to-2011-and-2012

 

By leading London Nutritionist, Lily Soutter BSc (Hons) Food & Human Nutrition, Dip NT     www.lilysoutternutrition.com

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