NEW YORK — When health experts talk about the “Western diet,” they usually mean people eating a lot of red meat and fried foods. They may have to update their definition as a new survey finds nearly one in two Americans now consumes more plant-based meals than meat. In fact, 47 percent of the United States — including more than half (54%) of respondents between 24 and 39 years-old — consider themselves “flexitarians.”
For those who may not know, a flexitarian is someone who is semi-vegetarian but still occasionally eats meat. This shift towards more plant-based foods and meat alternatives isn’t just a trend for younger crowds, either. The OnePoll survey of 2,000 Americans finds 43 percent believe being a flexitarian is a permanent lifestyle change. More than half (58%) feel like all their nutritional needs can be met solely with plant-based foods.
A deeper dive into the flexitarian lifestyle reveals nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents between 24 and 39 believe their nutritional needs can be fully met by a plant-based diet. Those over the age of 56 are less confident of this (30%).
Unfortunately, the word still isn’t fully out on being a flexitarian. More than a third of Americans (36%) are completely unaware of what that diet involves or if they classify as one.
The rising popularity of plant-based ingredients
The survey, commissioned by Sprouts Farmers Market, also finds 63 percent of people say they’d be willing to swap meat for a plant-based alternative if it met certain criteria. That includes tasting the same (68%), costing the same (63%), having the same nutritional value (60%), and having the same texture (63%).
“The interest in plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet is evident,” says Sprouts Chief Executive Officer Jack Sinclair in a statement. “Shoppers are more engaged with their food than ever and are seeking innovative and alternative products to mix up the meals they prepare for themselves and their families.”
Two-thirds of Americans (68%) say they like to mix up their diets every once and awhile. When asked how they like to mix up their diet, more than half use new ingredients (57%) or ingredient alternatives (51%). Likewise, 68 percent of the poll believe eating healthier can help give them a better understanding of the world. Meanwhile, 69 percent believe eating healthier can help give people a better understanding of their own bodies.
More than six in 10 Americans will eat plant-based meals to help themselves feel better and 59 percent would try plant-based foods if they were easier to find at their local grocery store.
Why are Americans changing their diets?
When asked about their motivation for eating healthier, more than half the poll (53%) said they want to strengthen their immune system. For 44 percent of Americans, they want to avoid getting sick. Twelve percent said they would eat healthier because it’s better for the environment.
“Plant-based product sales grew exponentially last year, indicating consumers are craving innovative items to try at home,” Sinclair adds. “We believe consumers will remain focused on incorporating healthy foods into their lifestyles to support immunity and overall wellbeing in 2021. This includes introducing consumers to things they never considered before, like plant-based foods and meat alternatives.”