It seems like every month there’s a new plant-based meat alternative on the market. Since 2015, plant-based meat substitutes that mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of animal products have exceeded 4400 products worldwide. Veggie burgers have been around for years – since 1982 when London-based natural foods restaurant owner Gregory Sams introduced the “VegeBurger.” The first veggie burgers were made from lentils, a variety of vegetables, nuts, and seeds and didn’t taste anything like a beef burger.
Today the focus is on replicating the taste and texture of meat using plants plus the latest technology, moving away from the traditional veggie burger and toward highly-processed foods.
What Ingredients are in Plant-Based “Meats”?
Manufacturers use a variety of ingredients to make plant-based “meats,” including:
- Wheat gluten
- Wheat seitan
- Pea protein
- Potato starch
- Various types of oils
- Different types of starches (these act as binders to hold everything together)
- Commercial flavoring and colors
- Fermented, genetically engineered yeast
But are these meat alternatives better for your health than actual meat?
There’s not one simple answer to this question. Each type of plant-based meat contains different nutrients.
Here are a few positive aspects of replacing traditional meats with plant-based meat alternatives:
- Plant-based meats contain fiber, while animal meats do not contain fiber. Fiber is found only in plants and promotes a healthy digestive tract as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and diverticular disease.
- There is strong scientific link between consuming red and processed meats and several types of cancer as well as heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting red meat and including more whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
- Replacing red and processed meat with plant-based meat is associated with a 25–40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 40% reduction in nitrogen emissions, and a 23% per capita reduced use of cropland for food production.
- Plant-based meats tend to be lower in total fat and harmful saturated fat than red meat and processed meats.
There are also some negative aspects of replacing meats with plant-based meat alternatives:
- Animal meats are good sources of zinc, iron, and vitamin B12; not all plant-based meat makers add these nutrients to their products.
- Plant-based meats tend to be higher in sodium than red meats, while most processed meats (sausage, lunch meat, hot dogs, etc) typically are high in sodium
- Some plant-based meats include added sugars that are never found in red meat; some types of processed meats, however, may contain added sugars.
- All plant-based meats are processed to some degree, and some are highly-processed.
So, what’s a person to do? Here’s what we suggest:
- Choose plant-based meats that contain legumes, vegetables, nuts, and seeds – whole foods that contain a variety of nutrients that are crucial for good health.
- Avoid products that contain more than 800mg sodium per serving.
- If you have celiac disease or are intolerant to gluten, avoid plant-based meats containing seitan or vital wheat gluten.
- If you are allergic to soy, nuts, or seeds read the ingredient lists carefully to make sure you’re purchasing products that do not contain these items.
- Choose plant-based products with additional iron, zinc, and B12 to more closely replace the nutrients naturally found in meat.
DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.
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