Flexitarians, the part-time vegetarians who make their own rules, are spearheading one of 2017’s biggest diet trends, according to consumer analysts. 35% of Britons now identify as ‘semi-vegetarian’, with 27% of British women claiming that, by 2025, their diet will be mostly meat-free.
Jamie Oliver famously enjoys 2-3 meat-free days each week, saying, “The reality is that your great-grandmother would never have consumed the volume of meat that we easily do, breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6-7 days a week now. Winding back is definitely a good idea. It is also beneficial for the environment and your wallet!”
Vegetarians such as former supermodel Christie Brinkley, 62, and actress Joanna Lumley, 70, often credit their slim figures, youthful complexions and good health to their diets, but could part-time veggies reap similar benefits?
According to science, the answer is yes. Flexitarians not only weigh, on average, 15% less than meat eaters, but have a lower risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke, and live up to 3.6 years longer.
So how do you do it? You might choose to avoid meat on weekdays, before 6pm or unless you are eating out – the ‘rules’ are down to you, and you alone.
Ocado nutritionist Anita Bean shares her top tips for reducing your meat consumption in a safe and healthy way:
1. Watch your protein intake
“Cutting out meat is all very well, but if you don’t replace it with a substitute protein, you’ll soon notice your energy levels begin to drop,” Anita explains. Sprinkle a handful of nuts over your salad or substitute meat with Quorn or cheese to keep hunger pangs at bay and energy levels topped up.
Anita recommends including foods from at least 2 of the following categories in every meal:
– Grains: bread, pasta, rice, oats, breakfast cereals, corn, rye
– Nuts and seeds: peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
– Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt)
– Quorn and soya products
But how do you put them together? The Vegetarian Society recently published Happy, Healthy and Delicious, a collection of more than 80 recipes designed to appeal to non-vegetarians who may be thinking about going veggie or trying out veggie food but, for one reason or another, haven’t quite managed it.
2. Make sure you get enough iron
Iron ensures that adequate levels of oxygen continue to flow through our bodies. Red meat is loaded with it, so fail to find an adequate replacement and you’ll soon start to feel tired.
The best vegetarian sources of iron include whole grains, beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, tofu, egg yolk and fortified breakfast cereals.
“Pairing these foods with a source of vitamin C will ensure your body absorbs the maximum amount of iron more quickly,” explains Anita. Surprisingly, a red bell pepper contains nearly three times as much iron as an orange. Other great sources include broccoli, cauliflower and kiwi.
3. Vitamin B12
“Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products so strict vegetarians may miss out. Get your daily quota from eggs and dairy products, as well as Marmite, B12-fortified yeast extract and breakfast cereals,” Anita recommends.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D maintains strong bones and wards off cardiovascular disease. Meeting your recommended daily quota can be problematic if you tend to avoid sun exposure and oily fish. “The best vegetarian sources are egg yolk and fortified margarine, plant milk and breakfast cereals,” says Anita.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been hailed for their skin rejuvenating and anti-ageing properties. Our bodies can’t make them, so if you are cutting down on oily fish, you’ll need to source your youth-boosting fix from dark leafy greens, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and their oils, says Anita. The European Food Safety Authority recommends 2-3g ALA or 250mg EPA/DHA. That’s just a single teaspoon of flaxseed oil.
6. Too busy to cook from scratch?
Stock up on Ocado’s vegetarian ready-meals and snacks. Our favourites include The Primal Pantry Cocoa Orange Paleo Protein Bar, Higgidy Spinach, Feta & Pine Nut Pie, Amy’s Kitchen Chilli Mac & Cheese, Quorn Vegan Hot & Spicy Burgers and Aunt Bessie’s Vegetarian Toad in the Hole.