Many people decided with the new year to make a change in their lifestyle. Many of them included in this plan to become vegetarian or vegan. It is indeed an extremely useful decision for anyone who has made it in many ways. However, a person who is just starting this diet may fall into some traps when it comes to choices.
For example, plant-based meats are often high in sodium, highly processed and no healthier than the meat they imitate. Meanwhile, almost half of consumers think they are more nutritious. So, if your decision is related to health, you may want to reconsider switching to a plant-based diet if it includes plant-based meats.
Impossible Burger, for example, is an impressive meatless mix of soy, potato, coconut and sunflower protein. It even has the appearance of a regular burger. At the same time, its calorie count and saturated fat levels are high, and it has six times more sodium.
The global market for vegetable meat is projected to skyrocket to $ 85 billion by 2030. And grocery stores are taking that into account, offering a range of burgers, sausages, nuggets, minced meat and seafood options, all with no trace of animal products.
What is the nutritional benefit?
According to a recent study, the nutritional benefits of vegetable meat are minimal. Researchers from the Singapore Institute for Food Innovation and Biotechnology modeled the result of replacing bacon, chicken, beef burgers and ice cream with non-animal versions.
Diets in which animal products were replaced by plant-based alternatives were lower than the daily recommendations for vitamin B12, calcium, potassium, zinc and magnesium and higher in sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
Even with added vitamins and minerals, these products are not nutritionally valuable, says Stephan van Vliet, a postdoctoral fellow at the Duke Institute of Molecular Physiology. “Plant meat is not cow meat and cow meat is not plant meat,” he says.
Animal sources such as meat, milk and eggs contain complete proteins, ie they contain many of the nine essential amino acids that we must receive from our diet every day. Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains, often lack one or more of these amino acids and must be eaten in combination.
Vegetable meat producers claim that their products contain similar amounts of protein that are comparable in quality to animal proteins. But the focus on protein is very “simplistic,” Van Vliet explains. “Foods contain hundreds to thousands of compounds that are capable of affecting human metabolism and health.”
The term plant-based
“People choose a vegetable burger for a variety of reasons,” says Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto-based nutrition consultant, “including reducing meat intake.” But he argues that consumers should reconsider their reasoning if the reason they choose it is health.
“Choosing something that is plant-based as a substitute because it is called plant-based really leads us in the wrong direction,” says Schwartz. According to scientists and official diet guides in many countries, plant-based nutrition is indeed the recommended way to eat. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits and the other half with whole grains and protein.
But the word “plant-based” also refers to anything from meat to paint and pillowcases, as long as they are made mostly or entirely from plants, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Just because it is made from plants does not mean that it is healthy. “I think it’s very confusing to the consumer,” says van Vliet. “It’s probably not the chicken, but everything else that comes with chicken nuggets that could be harmful to our health.”
Van Vliet and his colleagues compared 190 molecules in alternative plant-based meat products with ground beef and found that 90% of them were different. Plant-based alternative meat products lacked certain amino acids and derivatives, such as creatine, taurine and inserine, “which can all have an impact on our health and possibly on brain function as well as muscle function,” he says.
Other metabolites, such as polyphenols and antioxidants, have been found in large quantities or exclusively in meats of plant origin. He believes that foods of plant and animal origin complement each other in our diet, where some nutrients are better received from animal sources and others from plants.
The future of vegetable meats
Until now, meat companies have focused on the taste, texture and appearance of their products. These companies targeted meat eaters by creating plant miracles that were intended to look, taste and feel like real meat.
Impossible Foods, creator of Impossible Burger, says 90% of its customers are still meat eaters. It is not intended to turn salad and tempeh lovers into fake meat consumers. “The whole mission of Impossible Foods is to create plant-based products that directly compete with animal meat,” said Esther Cohn, Impossible Foods’ communications manager. “If you eat five beef burgers a week, we want you to substitute them, even if you try to exchange one for an Impossible Burger.”
With a growing market and new non-animal proteins made from cells in the laboratory or fungi in fermentation tanks, the choices are endless. Can they be adapted to be healthier? We have to wait and see.