There are more and more followers of the "flexitarian" diet, the closest thing to a "rebranding" of the Mediterranean diet
No vegetarian entity has recognized flexitarianism as an option commensurate with its idiosyncrasy. Despite this, this nutritional option has not only gained identity, but is gathering momentum. For many, it is the option that best suits their ethical and moral needs.
However, for some researchers, flexitarianism goes further, becoming a possible solution to the world's resource problems. Are we facing another fashion? Or is there some kind of evidence to support this view?
What is flexitarianism?
The word is documented, for the first time, in a 1992 article, referring to a flexible kitchen, oriented towards vegetarianism but without being strict. The idea of semi-vegetarianism is not new, and before the appearance of this word, there was already someone who practiced a mostly vegetarian diet but including animal products in a much smaller proportion.
Flexitarianism, as understood today, consists of a mostly vegetarian practice when choosing food, adding some products of animal origin, but in a very small proportion. By definition, vegetarianism does not recognize flexitarianism in any case. "Flexitarianism has nothing to do with vegetarian eating," explains Lucía Martinez, dietitian / nutritionist expert in vegetarian nutrition and author of Tell Me What You Eat. "It is a traditional or omnivorous diet, whatever you want to call it."
Indeed, behind the name there is, in fact, a pattern that fits very well with the traditional omnivorous idea, when we eliminate ultra-processed and excess fat and sugars. "If we analyze it, we will see how it is not as new as we think," explains Pilar Esquer, an expert in nutrition applied to business management: "Our grandparents and great-grandparents were the first 'flexitarians', because in the past they ate much more plant produce and much less animal. The so-called 'diet of the poor', based on legumes rather than meat and fish, kept them healthy. "
Flexitarianism, according to its advocates, cannot be identified with semi-vegetative, pesco-vegetative, or polylotarianism. In flexitarianism there are no nutritional restrictions as such. Instead, what is advocated is a plant-based diet, but one that could well be identified with omnivorous healthy nutrition, rather than anything else.
"The flexitarian diet," insists Lucia, "is a traditional diet without further ado. The so-called 'Mediterranean diet', properly understood, could be called flexitarian. The frequency of consumption of food of animal origin is not defined, we only know that it is lower than the usual. And all the competent organisms recommend to increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes and to lower especially the meat ".
Does it make any nutritional sense?
"From the field of health," explains Pilar, "we hear how practically all the diseases that afflict us have, to a greater or lesser extent, something to do with our way of eating. And of all the eating habits we have, the consumption of food of animal origin, and especially meat, is the most harmful. " With these words, Pilar refers to the excessive consumption of meat products that is reflected in society.
"I think that any initiative or habit that involves reducing the excessive intake of protein of animal origin and therefore increasing the intake of food of plant origin, should be welcome," he says. For her part, Lucía is more cautious: "If you ask me for a professional opinion, about whether it is healthy, it depends on how you approach it, like any other diet."
Like any other diet that reduces animal products and increases plant products, so-called flexitarianism has been shown to have some dietary utility. But as Lucía points out, everything depends on the way in which the diet is administered, and not so much on its supposed nature. "For me there is no doubt," says Pilar about it. "Health improves, and much, when we reduce the intake of protein of animal origin and, especially, of meat."
"There is an enormous amount of scientific evidence that supports this. In fact, there is so much because official agencies like the WHO and the governments of many countries are already recommending its reduction, despite the tremendous power of the meat lobby," he says. Pillar."An excessive consumption of meat is behind such serious and booming diseases, such as cancer or cardiovascular problems that are the first cause of death in the world, and a long etc".
"Furthermore," he continues, "the immediate consequence of this reduction in animal products is that we increase the intake of legumes, cereals, vegetables and fruits, and this also has a very positive impact on our health." "In general, increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes will always be positive," agrees Lucía.
"The key to saving the planet"
In addition to a nutritional issue, there is a crucial relationship between food and sustainability. Today, many organisms are concerned about the "health of the planet". WHO, for example, includes among its goals ensuring environmental sustainability. "To maintain the abundant intake of protein of animal origin that humans consume today," Pilar tells us, "we have to raise many animals."
"The amount of resources necessary for this young is unsustainable for the planet. To produce a single kilo of meat we need 700 kg of cereal, 7.6 L of fuel and the water equivalent to 6 months of showers. It doesn't seem like a process too much. efficient ", explains Pilar. "Livestock greenhouse gas emission figures exceed those of all modes of transport combined."
Like Pilar, organizations such as the FAO are concerned about the important impact that livestock farming has on the environment. Some experts, however, believe that flexitarianism could be the answer to this problem. The reason is, as we can imagine, in the reduction of meat consumption, and therefore livestock farming.
"50% of the cereal we produce, and more than a third of the fishing catch, is destined to feed animals that we then eat," says Pilar. "If we talk about the water consumption of livestock, we will also see how this contributes to the scarcity of it in the world." Pilar refers to the impressive water footprint of livestock: while that of cereals is estimated at about 0.5 L / Kcal, pork has a water footprint greater than 2 L / Kcal and beef somewhat more 10 L / Kcal.
"If all these resources were concentrated in the production of food for direct human consumption, we would have no shortage of food. Although agriculture also places an important bill on our environment, it seems without a doubt a more efficient and intelligent way of feeding the human species, "says the nutritionist.
The benefits of changing our habits
The World Health Organization itself agrees, to a large extent, with experts: "It is important to transform the food systems of all sectors." The recommendations they give, both from FAO and WHO, aim at a healthier diet and an increase in sustainability. Flexitarianism, which is almost too much like a healthy omnivorous diet, fits many of the premises of these goals.
"In my opinion," explains Pilar, "the greatest attraction of this new trend in food is that it does not prohibit anything. His followers voluntarily and gradually reduce the intake of animals, without prohibiting their consumption. Only this gesture is already improving his health to a great extent and also contributes to improving our battered environment. "
"But also, and this is the part that I like the most," he continues, "when the body feels better due to that change in diet, it naturally and without imposition gravitates towards those foods that provide that well-being. With which, without so much effort on our part, we managed to change habits and thereby improve our health and our world. "
Habit changes are the best strategy to gain health. Such changes are not justified by drastic changes in diet or in other aspects of our lives. On the contrary, they are attitudes that are gained over time, where adherence is the most important factor. But, if we listen to the WHO and the FAO, these changes in habits could be very beneficial, also, for our little planet.
With a reduction in the consumption of meat and animal products we would gain more plant resources for human consumption, more soil and more water. We would also gain in health, which would reduce the consumption of resources in treatments, information and prevention. In short, a change in habits, especially in the type of nutrition (and what we can call flexitarianism), could have a very positive potential in global sustainability.
"Far from fads and new names," says Pilar, "for not so new habits, I would recommend, without a doubt, that we gradually reduce the intake of products of animal origin and increase those of plant origin. stay in the percentage that best suits you. And I am sure that, even those who reduced it a little at first, would end up eating fewer and fewer animal products when they perceived the improvement in their health, "said the nutritionist.