Are plant-based meat products healthier?
- The earliest known reference to a plant-based meat product dates back to 965 AD in China, where a magistrate named Shi Ji discouraged meat consumption in the name of frugality and renamed tofu as “mock lamb chops” and “the vice mayor’s mutton.”
- According to a Plant-Based State of the Industry report from 2021, between 2018 and 2021, total plant-based food sales in the US increased by 54%, reaching $7.4 billion.
- The Good Food Institute reveals that plant-based meat products lead to significantly less CO2 emissions than conventional meat, citing “Plant-based and cultivated beef generate respectively 99% and 92% less emissions than traditional beef.”
- Statista reports that India has the highest number of vegans worldwide, accounting for 9% of its population.
Although many alternative meat products claim to be healthier, they are not all that different from any other kind of ultra-processed food. It has been observed that popular plant-based products, including those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have similar levels of sodium and saturated fat as animal meats. They also tend to contain added sugars and controversial ingredients such as carrageenan and methylcellulose.
Soy protein concentrate, the primary protein source in many plant-based meat alternatives, also contains a high level of nitrites, which is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Dietary nitrites have also been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing chronic diseases and respiratory diseases.
Furthermore, due to their processed nature, plant-based products usually do not contain the type of nutrients you would expect from whole plant foods. This is mainly because the manufacturing process strips significant amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated fats, and polyphenols.
It should also be noted that people in four of the world’s five so-called Blue Zones have some form of meat in their diet. Experts have raised concern that individuals who consume plant-based meats are not getting enough quality protein. Plant-based protein sources are not complete proteins, meaning they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids. Therefore, those who consume only plant-based meats will likely experience protein deficiency.
Despite the rising popularity of vegan diets, it is clear that highly-processed plant-based products are not any healthier than their meat counterparts. Individuals would be better off sticking to whole foods.
Although plant based-meats have often been pointed to as containing unnecessary saturated fats and sodium, in many ways, they are much healthier than regular meat. Because plant-based meat products are enhanced through the manufacturing process, they often have a higher density of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, such as added B12 vitamin, a nutrient that is often lacking in most diets. Further, plant-based meats also contain a large amount of much-needed fiber from ingredients like beans, brown rice, and lentils. Additionally, exchanging red meat and poultry for plant based-meats can help reduce the risk of common illnesses associated with eating too much animal protein, such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, and high cholesterol.
Plant-based meat can also help create a bridge toward a healthier plant-based lifestyle. The difference between the standard American diet and healthier alternatives like veganism or a plant-based diet can be a drastic change, which is unsustainable for most people. Utilizing products like plant-based burgers, fake chicken strips, and imitation ground beef can help ease someone into eating a healthier diet less reliant on processed meats and dairy products.
Since meat is so high in protein and not much else, it can cause an imbalance in activity levels. People currently do not have a lifestyle where they need explosive energy, such as athletes completing a marathon might need on a race day. Most people today rely on a diet that gives them a slow release of carbs, fat, and protein to stay awake throughout the day and have enough energy to complete moderate exercise.
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