There’s a lot of buzz these days about a flexitarian diet – how it’s good for your health and for the planet.
That statement grabs the attention of mothers everywhere. Not only do we want the best health for our children, we want them to live in a healthy and safe planet.
Should we be raising our children as flexitarians?
Before you can fully decide if a flexitarian lifestyle is a choice for your family, you have to fully understand just what being a flexitarian is all about and how it can do its part in protecting the environment.
Harmful Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Products
Our food system plays a huge role in the health of the environment.
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), livestock make up 14.5% of GHG emissions. This means that the livestock industry produces more GHG emissions than all cars, trains, ships, and planes combined.
What are greenhouse gases? They’re harmful gases that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, which inevitably leads to global warming and climate changes.
A recent report titled“Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits”, was published in the journal “Nature”.
The report has some staggering figures about the increase in environmental pressures if our food system continues on its current path, particularly an increase in these greenhouse gas emissions.
If we continue producing and consuming the number of animal products we are today, by 2050 the environmental pressures of GHG will reach 187%.
That’s a huge increase in harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The report goes on to state that if we change our animal-based diet to that of a flexitarian, we can lower that number from 187% to 90% – that’s half the projected amount just by changing the way we eat.
And it’s a compelling reason to do our part in changing our diet, learning to rely on more plant-based proteins in our diet and limiting the consumption of meat proteins without becoming strictly vegetarian.
Professor Keith Richards, a member of the Cambridge Global Food Security, says it clearly and simply:
“This is not a radical vegetarian argument; it is an argument about eating meat in sensible amounts as part of healthy, balanced diets.”
Sustainability of Protein Sources
So far, we’ve looked at evidence that supports reducing the number of animal products we consume for environmental reasons.
Some mention also needs to be made about the need for sustainable protein.
As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the need for adequate sources of protein. If we continue to eat the way we do, our planet won’t be able to keep up with food supplies.
By reducing the number of animal foods we consume, and moving instead toward more plant-based diets, we can significantly lower GHG emissions and reduce our impact on the planet within our own lifetime.
What It Means to Be Flexitarian
Just what is a flexitarian diet and is it something you can commit to with your family?
The concept is a simple one: flexitarian means eating more plant-based foods with small amounts of poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. And even smaller amounts of red meat.
Many of us already limit the amount of red meat we consume but don’t want to push it completely out of our diet. If this is you, you might already be considered a flexitarian.
While it’s true that vegetarian and vegan diets have even less of an effect on the environment than a flexitarian diet, many of us still opt to eat animal-based protein.
Which is why a flexitarian food plan is just that – it allows you to be flexible when food planning.
The report in Nature states:
“Dietary changes towards healthier diets can reduce the environmental impacts of the food system when environmentally intensive foods, in particular, animal products, are replaced by less intensive food types.”
You don’t need to completely give up eating meat to leave a positive imprint on the environment. The flexitarian diet food plan is a good middle ground for how and what we eat.
How Much Meat Is Okay to Eat?
The flexitarian diet is all about limiting animal proteins, not giving them up entirely.
These are the basic guidelines:
The majority of your daily food plan should be fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Choose more protein that is plant-based rather than animal-based.
Eat small amounts of poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
Limit red meat to one portion or less a week.
Choose natural foods over processed.
Limit sugar and foods high in saturated fats.
Shift Your Family to a Flexitarian Lifestyle
A flexitarian diet has many of the health benefits of a fully plant-based diet. Making the move to a flexitarian diet just might be easier than you think.
Begin by eating one plant-based meal a day. Continue to add more plant-based meals until the majority of your meals are based on green proteins.
Let your children be part of the meal planning, letting them choose plant-based recipes so they feel like they’re included in the move to a flexitarian diet.
Eat more legumes
Come up with creative ways to add more lentils and beans to your meals.
Legumes are the most environmentally sustainable plant-based protein.
Flexitarian Health Benefits
Not only does the flexitarian diet help the planet, but research also shows that it has numerous health benefits.
By introducing your family to a diet that’s more plant-based and less meat-focused, you’re setting them up for success when it comes to managing their well being and health.
Some of the health benefits include:
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
Lower risk of obesity
May treat inflammatory bowel diseases
Lower risk of heart disease
Helps to maintain healthy body weight and BMI
Embracing the Planet as a Flexitarian
With the overwhelming evidence of environmental and health benefits, moving to a flexitarian lifestyle is in your family’s favor.
Western diets are guilty of contributing more to GHG emissions than other areas of the world.
Many of these other regions already consume diets that are high in plant-based protein, either by choice or circumstance.
It’s time for Western cultures to catch up and do their part, helping to lower GHG emissions by changing the quality of their diet.
Writer by day...coffee, pastry, and yogi by night. Before getting a degree in computer information systems, Monica ran a home daycare - the perfect opportunity to stay at home with her own daughter. Living in the coastal city of Vancouver, she weaves words into sentences as a writer with a degree in Technical Writing. Her writing passions are natural health, nutrition and healthy eating, and mindfulness.