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Plant Power

The Rise of Flexitarianism. Here is how Singapore has been stepping up its game in the global meat-reduction movement - and what you can do, too.

Choosing whether to eat meat has increasingly become more than just a matter of one's personal health concerns or even an individual's ethical stance - it's a matter of actually saving our planet. With meat production accounting for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally (more than all transportation combined worldwide!), and reports that the global temperature rises are unlikely to keep below two degrees Celsius without a shift in global meat and dairy consumption, scientists are encouraging people to embrace more plant-based diets to mitigate environmental disasters and natural resource depletion. But this doesn't necessarily mean to give up meat completely. Adopting a "flexitarian" diet, they say, is at least a step in the right direction toward promoting sustainability.

What is Flexitarianism?

Eating meat doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing. Instead of quitting cold turkey, there's an alternative: flexitarianism - following a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally consuming seafood or meat. Also known as semi-vegetarianism, this type of diet (much like pescetarian and pollotarian diets) allows you some flexibility while still being mindful of food choices, and the ethical and environmental impacts of those choices. Unlike veganism, which promotes the complete abstinence of animal products, including eggs and dairy, a flexitarian diet might mean abstaining from meat six days a week to one person, but going meatless only once a week to another.
No matter how you decide to interpret it, the goal is to minimise animal-based protein intake, thus reducing your carbon footprint, even just a little. And the appeal of this type of diet, for many, is not having to label themselves one way or the other, or feel the pressure of committing to a permanent lifestyle choice.
The concept may draw eye-rolls from some who see it as "cheating" or "vegetarianism with benefits", but the fact is that cutting back on the meat rather than refraining completely could be the practical compromise that's needed in order to help the environment. It can have a positive impact on one's health, too.

Several studies have shown that frequent red meat consumption and the mode of its preparation are associated with an increased risk of development of colon cancer, says gastroenterologist DR ANDREA RAJNAKOVA. Which is why, she says, removing meat from the diet even at least once a week can be beneficial.

Thanks to their high intake of plant-based foods, vegetarians have lesser risk for development of certain types of cancer and other diseases." At the same time, she adds, strict vegetarian diets without any animal proteins may cause various nutritional deficiencies - of iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, for example along with protein deficiencies.

As for amino acids, Dr Andrea says because animal protein contains all the essential amino acids in the correct proportions, it's considered to be of a high biological value, while vegetables can have an incomplete amino acid profile.

For this reason, the combination of grains and legumes in the same dish (rice and lentils, for example) represents a better substitute of a slice of meat then legumes on their own, as grains contain an amino acid missing in the legumes,

she says. In all, Dr Andrea feels that a flexitarian diet is a great compromise, as combining animal proteins with vegetable proteins a few times a week can provide a better variety of vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lacking in a purely vegetarian diet.

  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (more vegetables than fruit).
  • Include whole grain in at least one main meal per day.
  • Include different sources of iron that may be lacking due to a low intake of red meat. Good sources include dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, kale, and broccoli.
  • Use foods rich in vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron from vegetable sources: small glass (150ml) of freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon sauce as a dressing, bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and kiwifruit, for example.
  • Include animal protein a few times a week, such as salmon, eggs, low-fat dairy and chicken.
  • Improve your ability to digest the legumes (and reduce flatulence) by soaking them for a long time, then changing the water before cooking; and, when possible, remove the skin.

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