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Is flexitarianism the best way to eat?

Want a healthy eating plan that’s simple and flexible? – try being a flexitarian

Flexitarianism is basically being a flexible vegetarian,” says Liz O’Byrne, a nutritional therapist who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon. “Flexitarians eat meat occasionally – usually chicken or fish from ethical sources. People don’t necessarily call themselves flexitarians, but just lean towards a plant-based diet most of the time for the obvious health and environmental benefits.”

“A flexitarian is a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish,” says nutritional therapist Sinéad Dundon of The Tummy Tamer. “It is definitely becoming more popular as a way of life and a link with the growing trend towards veganism and raw food diets.”

You may be a flexitarian without knowing it – if you eat a lot of tofu, quinoa, grains, nuts, dairy, eggs, beans and vegetables with just the occasional serving of meat and fish this could be you. Eating in a flexitarian way means that you don’t have to commit to a full vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and you have the flexibility to eat as you feel rather than having to stick to strict rules.

Win-win situation

“Any way of eating that promotes eating more plants is a good way of eating in my book,” says Liz O’Byrne. “People who eat more vegetables tend to be healthier and live longer. Meat and fish (especially organic or wild) tend to be expensive, so if you only eat them occasionally it’s easier to afford better quality. Then of course, there’s the environmental impact of eating less meat. It’s a win-win situation really.”

“The advantage of following this way of eating is avoiding a rigid, prescriptive diet which may not suit the individual body’s needs,” says Sinéad Dundon. “As a practitioner of the Blood Type diet I find that people with O type blood are more suited to having more meat and animal protein and A types thrive better on a more vegetarian diet which does include more fish and occasional lamb. Another advantage is that some nutrients like K2, B12, iron, omega-3, iodine and vitamin A are essential for health and would need supplementation to ensure optimum levels in a strict vegan or vegetarian diet but less so for flexitarians. Occasional inclusion of an organic wild deep sea cold water oily fish is highly beneficial for omega-3, iodine and vitamin A. Ensuring a healthy gut flora can improve levels of K2 and vitamin B12 in the body.”

Other advantages include reducing the amount of fat you consume through red meat which can affect your heart health. By contrast a diet with more vegetables is shown to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Flexitarian tips

Health stores can play a role in maintaining this kind of diet. “Lots of health food shops stock fresh organic vegetables and herbs and all of them stock grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – often organic, GM-free and ethically sourced,” says Liz O’Byrne. “The Aloe Tree in Ennistymon has a great scoop and weigh station and people bring their own containers or use the biodegradable bags provided.”

Other ways to get the real benefit of eating in a flexitarian manner include shopping local, buying seasonal and sustainable crops – for example, vegetable boxes from local farms, eggs, honey and anything else produced in your area. Go to a quality butchers for your meat and choose organic or free range meat – it may be more expensive but will not have been exposed to antibiotics, hormones and other drugs during production.

In many ways this may remind you of how your grandparents used to cook and eat – in the days before supermarkets and processed foods many would have grown their own vegetables and bought food from the local butcher, deli and bakers.

Do I need to supplement?

Flexitarians generally do not need to worry about taking supplements, but you will need to ensure you get enough protein from plant-based sources. Choose dairy or nut milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D and look for foods fortified with B12, vitamin D, iron and calcium. A good multivitamin should fill any gaps

Nutritional therapist Liz O’Byrne holds clinics in Ennistymon and Lahinch, Co Clare Sinéad Dundon of The Tummy Tamer www.foodforlife.ie

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