Are "Meatless" Substitutes Healthier? Here's What You Need To Know
It’s amazing how many “meatless” meat substitutes are now available for sale in every grocery store!
Walk down the “health food” aisle, and you’ll find meatless substitutes made with everything from soy to gluten to legumes to lab-grown cells. A lot of people buy these products somehow believing that because they’re meatless, they’re healthier.
But is that really how it works? Are meatless substitutes really healthier?
We did the research into these substitutes, and below is all the important facts you really need to know about alternative meat products…
Why Go Meatless?
Countless studies have proven that a diet high in plant-based products is critical for good health. That much we all know and accept at face value—it’s why we try our best to include more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into our healthy diet.
However, some studies have hinted that animal products can be harmful to our bodies. This is a subject of much debate—far too much for us to list here.
Suffice it to say, some people opt for a diet without red meat, poultry, fish, or animal products of any sort.
The problem is, making that transition from a meat-heavy diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet can be difficult. After all, you’re cutting out animal protein, the thing that serves as the central element of most of the dishes and meals we eat.
That’s where meatless substitutes come in!
These substitutes provide you with a meat-like food—burgers, sausages, shredded “meat”, cheese, and the list goes on—that you can still enjoy on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Basically, they allow you to almost eat like you used to, but with one big exception: no meat in your “meat”.
Your Meatless Substitute Options
There are a number of meatless substitutes available for your consumption—here are just a few:
Beyond Meat offers burgers, sausage, ground beef, and crumbles, all made without any animal products. The primary source of protein is pea protein isolate, but other ingredients include mung bean protein, cocoa butter, rice protein, potato starch, and canola and coconut oil.
Impossible Burger is well-known for its meatless burger patty—so well-known, in fact, that it can be found in fast food joints like Burger King and Red Robin! Soy protein concentrate serves as its primary protein source, but other ingredients include potato protein, yeast extract, food starch modified, sunflower and coconut oil, and soy protein isolate.
Yves Veggie Tofu Dogs are hot dogs made using tofu, which comes from soy.
Tofurky Smoke Maple Bacon Tempeh is supposed to taste like your favorite smoky bacon, but it’s made using tempeh, a fermented soybean product.
Upton Naturals Bacon Seitan is also a bacon alternative, one made using seitan, another name for the gluten derived from wheat products.
Again, these are just a few of the many, many meatless substitutes that you can find in local grocery stores, supermarkets, and health food stores.
The Pros of Meatless Substitutes
As you can imagine, there are a lot of reasons to try meatless substitutes:
- They taste a lot like meat, but they’re made with no animal protein. This means you can eat them while following a strict plant-based diet.
- These meatless burgers tend to be highly sustainable and more eco-friendly than animal products. In addition, no animals are killed in the process of making them.
- Meatless substitutes have a much higher fiber content than meat, thanks to the fact that they’re made from plants.
- The absence of meat reduces the risk of carcinogens forming, a common byproduct of charred meat. This has the potential to decrease your chances of colon cancer.
Some pretty good reasons to add them to your diet, right?
The Cons of Meatless Substitutes
Of course, there are a few downsides you need to know about, too:
- Meatless substitutes tend to be more processed, with more refined oils and artificial ingredients. There are unknown potential health implications from eating food that is so highly processed.
- They tend to be higher on sodium—not just a little bit higher, but A LOT higher! A meatless burger can have as much as 300 milligrams of sodium more than a regular beef burger. High-sodium diets have been linked to a number of heart problems, including high blood pressure and hypertension.
- They may potentially be made using GMO products.
- They are very high in saturated fat. Meatless substitutes use refined oils like canola oil, coconut oil, and safflower oil to provide the “fatty” taste of meat. Eating these oils in large quantities via your meatless substitutes increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Our Verdict on Meatless Substitutes
Meatless substitutes have proven to have a lot of pretty amazing benefits.
The fact that they’re made using plant-based ingredients is definitely a “win” in our books. Meatless foods contain far more fiber than animal products, and they are often enriched with additional minerals, meaning they can provide the nourishment your body needs.
If protecting the environment and preventing animal cruelty are things that are important to you, then you’ll find that meatless substitutes are an excellent alternative to animal farming and meat consumption.
However, it’s a bit far to say that meatless substitutes are a “health food”. Yes, they offer some benefits—chiefly a tasty way to cut out animal meats—but the downsides are very real, too. The fact that they may be GMO, are high in sodium, contain refined and artificial ingredients, and provide a hefty dose of saturated fats means they’re not quite as “healthy” as you might think.
For those who are trying to cut meat from their diet, definitely consider them as a tasty addition to your vegan or vegetarian meals. But if you’re just trying to be healthy, it may be better in the long run that you continue eating lean red meats, poultry, and fish in order to obtain the balanced nutrients without all the added ingredients.
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