Vegan meat has opened a whole new food world for vegans, major food manufacturers, and food companies. However, as these vegan meat substitutes become more popular, many people, vegans or not, ask themselves if these meat alternatives are healthy or just as bad as meat-based products?
For many years, vegans and vegetarians made their dietary choices because of animal welfare concerns. However, over the last decade, studies have shown that red and processed meat consumption is carcinogenic. They have also demonstrated the impact of meat and dairy farming on the environment. This has caused a shift in why more people are turning to vegetable-based diets since most are now aware of the impact of meat and its farming on their health and the environment. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of plant-based meats for those mindful of the environment and their health.
Meat alternatives and their pros
Pros of adding alternative meats to a plant-based lifestyle:
Source of Protein
Meat alternatives like plant-based burgers, sausages, and meatballs have concentrated levels of bioavailable proteins. These make it easier for athletes and seniors, both categories of people requiring higher protein needs, to meet their recommended daily protein intakes.
Convenience and Transitioning
For busy families trying to transition into a lifestyle with less meat, these plant-based foods offer them the convenience of putting a healthy meal on the table. This healthy alternative allows them to explore the availability of wholesome plant foods and find ways to create delicious dinners. Plant-based meats also offer a food alternative in social situations, allowing vegans a sustainable and smooth transition to a plant-based diet.
Lower Organic Pollutants
Most products at the top of the food chain have concentrated levels of organic pollutants. These foods include meat, fish, and dairy products, which form carcinogenic compounds when cooked at high temperatures. This does not happen to plant-based meats.
Reduced Levels of Chronic Inflammation
Lower levels of endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides) are found in plant-based meats and are higher in proper meats. Endotoxins are associated with chronic inflammation and other diseases, so the less eaten, the better.
No Bacterial Contamination Risk
Animal-based food products are very prone to bacterial contamination, causing foodborne disease. Plant-based meat alternatives don’t carry such risks, making them a healthy option.
Meat Alternatives and their Cons
Cons to alternative meat consumption:
Processed is Processed
Even though vegan meat is healthier than meat products, they are still processed. This means they are high in fats, sodium, and other additives, making them full of calories. Whole plant foods like beans and rice may need more cooking and imagination to create exciting meals, but they are healthier. Plant-based meat alternatives are higher in fiber than animal foods, and they have no cholesterol, but they are far less nutritious than a homemade burger made at home from veggies, black beans, and quinoa.
The prices of meat alternatives are still prohibitive for most people, making it cheaper to buy meat. But, of course, as the demand for these vegan meats increases, their prices will drop.
Quality Can Be a Problem
Those companies already producing meat alternatives offer products of varying quality. Unfortunately, these foods are pretty processed, and some are only made from extracted plant proteins which require quite a bit of processing compared to using ingredients like quinoa, black beans, etc. The fewer processes a consumer expects their food to have, the more they must read the labels.
Those vegans sensitive to nuts, glutens, or soy, need to be aware that these alternative meat products often contain these. Reading the labels carefully can help protect from these common allergens.
Not all alternative meat products are fortified with the vitamins contained in real meat, as was shown in a recent study. Several plant-based mince products were found to have some nutritional shortcomings. People on a vegan diet should ensure they are getting enough vitamin B12 and zinc, and if this is not possible from the rest of their diet, they should take a good supplement.
There are undoubtedly several healthier plant-based types of meat available for consumers. However, they need to check the labels for information about the ingredients list, saturated fats, sodium, protein, and vitamins, helping ensure they are getting the best meat alternatives.