Flexitarianism is a food plan focused mainly on nutritious vegetables, pulses and fruits, while still getting the benefits of iron and protein from meat and fish when necessary. Eating less meat means you can spend more money on free-range and organic meat, it means you eat more vegetables, and you can commit to a healthier diet but still join in the meat-fest when you want to. What’s not to love!
Whether you opt for meat-free Mondays or tofu Thursdays, you are part of an ever-growing community in Ireland that has pledged to reduce their intake of animal products. It is currently estimated that between 5-10% of the population identifies as vegetarian and within this bracket, there are two distinct categories. Lacto-ovo vegetarians – those who avoid meat, poultry and fish but will eat eggs and consume dairy produce, and vegans – who avoid all forms of animal produce, dairy and eggs included. The rise in the availability of vegan and vegetarian-based foods in both supermarkets and restaurants reflects the increase in demand. According to Harvard Medical School,when compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume diets lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in vitamins C and E, dietary fibre, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and powerful plant chemicals.
As a result, they’re likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with increased life expectancy and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases. On the down side, it can be easy to bulk up on carbohydrates as a vegetarian, especially when first transitioning away from meat. Pasta, rice, bread and refined goods all act as easy substitutes for meal times and your weight can easily creep up. When options are slim, a plate of chips, bowl of pasta or bag of crisps are often what seem like the only answer. As with any diet, preparation is key.
Achieving a healthy vegetarian diet can be done by balancing the right food groups. Protein is vital for growth and repair of our bodies and as our bodies cannot produce it ourselves, we need to make sure to obtain enough from food. Eggs and dairy products can act as a great meat-free source of protein but don’t forget that beans, pulses and meat alternatives like soya-based tofu and Quorn can too. Iron, essential for carrying oxygen around the body, requires vitamin C for absorption so combining foods at meal times will help with this.