So maybe you just finished watching Earthlings or Forks Over Knives on iTunes and you’re worried about the planet. Maybe your doc has told you to lose a few pounds. Or maybe you just can’t resist your partner’s persistent pleas anymore. Either way, you are actually considering becoming a vegetarian. Yup, going full veggy. But wait, what about burgers? You love burgers! And, ugh, what about hot wings? What’s life without hot wings? And, ah, forget it, there’s just no way you can give up those juicy steaks. It’s just too big a change, too grand a commitment, and hey, we all need protein, right? And so goes the common dialogue that plays out in the heads of the many young professionals (YPs) concerned about their health and their environment but who just love meat.
While vegetarianism grows in popularity, being touted as a sort of catch-all cure for many of the world’s current ills, we can’t just ignore the fact that giving up an entire food group is a pretty big deal. For many Canadians, meat is culturally intertwined into who we are, via our daily diet and our family traditions (mmm, how good was that Christmas turkey?). If only there was a way to consume a more plant-based diet and reap all those herbivorous benefits without having to give up our meaty faves for good. Well, ta da, there is. Say hello to the healthy diet that really lets you to have it all: Flexitarianism.
As the name obviously implies, the term Flexitarian is a combo of flexible and vegetarian. At a basic level, that is just what the Flex diet is all about: Eating a more plant-based diet while still being able to enjoy meat here and there. The term was coined back in 2009 by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. One of the key factors of Dawn’s plan is that unlike vegetarianism, the Flex diet does not actually subtract a food group, but rather adds new foods to those we already eat. For example, the Flex diet incorporates what Dawn calls “new meats,” like beans, tofu, lentils, seeds, nuts, and eggs. Along with the usual fruits and veggies, dairy, and whole grains, she also categorizes spices, herbs, and natural sugars as another group all their own. The overall aim is to gradually minimize (without completely cutting out) meat-eating, while learning to enjoy more plant-based foods, including plant proteins. According to Dawn, “Flexitarians weigh 15% less, have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and live 3.6 years longer than their carnivorous counterparts.” So whether you want to help the animals, help the world, or help your health, but just can’t commit to tofu-dogs for the rest of your life, check out Dawn’s book here for more info and detailed meal plans.
Flexibility within Flex
Some people prefer structured diets and love meal plans. Others find the word “diet” in any form to be stifling and overwhelming. If you aren’t into eating plans but still think Flexitarianism might be your type of thing, we think there’s a way to make it even more flexible. With so much research popping up in popular media about plant-based proteins (hurray for quinoa!) and the incredible health and environmental benefits of eating more plants/less meat, it’s easy to do our own Googling and food prepping. Search for flexible recipes that can substitute protein-rich plant ingredients for meat (chickpeas are our friend), and get cooking. You can even start by simply joining in on the Meatless Monday trend. Or even easier, hit up the newest veggy hotspot in your neighbourhood, and make it a regular thing. Here are a few Notable ideas in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.
However you choose to go about it, adding more nutrient and fiber-filled fruit and veggies to your diet is never a bad thing. For us balanced YPs, partaking in any variety of flexible, healthy eating habits is what will give us the best chance of sticking with it and reaping all the physical, moral, and environmental benefits that we can.
Photos courtesy Not Your Standard