One-Third Of Americans Are Now "Flexitarian"

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Nov. 5 2018, Updated 2:39 p.m. ET

New research indicates that plant-based diets are increasingly popular — and not just on social media. A recent study conducted by OnePoll and So Delicious Dairy Free found that a third of Americans consider themselves “flexitarians,” while 52 percent are trying to incorporate more plant-based meals into their daily eating routines.

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Flexitarian is a pretty broad term, but it essentially means what it sounds like: a flexible vegetarian. Someone who identifies as a flexitarian generally eats plant-based, but will occasionally mix in meat or fish. The label is often attributed to Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian who wrote The Flexitarian Diet in 2009.

But the lifestyle has come a long way since Blatner published her book. The OnePoll data revealed that 31 percent of the 2,000 survey respondents observe a flexitarian diet. A slightly larger share of the group (38 percent) said they followed more than one kind of diet, compared to 13 percent who said they committed to a specific diet, like veganism or paleo.

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The survey also showed that 59 percent of respondents eat plant-based meals at least once a day. On average, those polled ate three vegetarian meals, three gluten-free, three dairy-free, three paleo, two vegan, and two pescatarian (fish) meals during a typical week.

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So what explains the trend in flexible vegetarianism? Most people prefer the diet for its health benefits. The top reported reason for going flexitarian was to eat healthier without missing out on taste or favorite foods. While 70 percent of respondents gave this explanation, 69 percent said they ate flexitarian to feel better physically and 57 percent said they did it to feel better mentally. 

Almost half of those polled chose flexitarianism to lose weight (46 percent), while a smaller share said they ate flexitarian to set a good example for their kids or others (27 percent).

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The new data points to an overall decrease in meat and dairy consumption. Over the last five years, 37 percent of respondents said they have reduced the amount of meat they eat and 33 percent said they have reduced the amount of dairy in their diets. 

While this poll suggests that people mainly choose plant-based to improve their health and well-being, the rise of flexitarianism is a boost for the environment, too. A 2018 scientific study found that avoiding meat and dairy was perhaps the best thing individuals could do for the planet — it was even better, the researchers claimed, than flying less or investing in an electric car.

Still, the respondents said there were a few factors that stopped them from eating plant-based meals on a more regular basis. Taste, limited satisfaction, food quality and texture, and limited variety of options were all listed as obstacles. Based on these findings, Americans will need to see more exciting plant-based items on restaurant menus — and enticing plant-based products on grocery store shelves — for the trend to continue. Luckily, companies seem to be catching on.

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