Plant-based meats have become more widely available with the introduction of new companies and products that are now in many mainstream grocery stores. Market research shows that there are 28 million plant-powered consumers actively seeking out alternatives to animal products (Shoup, 2022).
A question sparked by many skeptics of the plant-based meat alternatives is whether or not they are healthy to consume. Depending on the individual, some say that plant-based meats are healthy for the average person, while others claim their nutritional value isn’t worthy of consumption. Here, we are breaking down the facts and helping nutrition students better understand plant-based meat options.
Health Benefits of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Plant-based meat alternatives include items that imitate typical animal meat, such as burgers, ground meat, and sausages, but are made from plant food sources. From a health perspective, it’s worth noting that certain plant-based meats are free from specific nutrients that some people try to limit to support their heart health, such as saturated fat and sodium (We Need to Talk About Meat, 2018).
Main benefits of plant-based meat alternatives may come from the ingredients that they omit. Recent research does indicate that there is a link between a high intake of processed and red meats to an increased risk of developing various forms of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer (Domingo, 2017). On top of excluding these high-risk animal products, plant-based options help individuals increase their fiber intake, as plants are the only natural source of fiber (Hever, 2016). Plant-based options also likely include higher concentrations and diversity of vitamins, minerals, and compounds that provide further health protection (Hever, 2016).
Drawbacks of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
It’s important for students in a nutritionist program to understand that not all plant-based meat alternatives are created equal, and can’t always be lumped together. Highly processed options such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are just as high in total and saturated fat as animal meat, and in some cases have higher sodium content than a single beef patty (Clifton, 2017).
These plant-based meat alternatives are often more expensive than animal protein sources, which can negatively impact financial health and pose a barrier to consumption (Saba, 2022). While this is true, nutrition professionals can point their clients toward cheaper sources of plant-based proteins, such as soy, tofu, and jackfruit.
Defining “Healthy” in Nutritionist School
In general, reaching for whole foods that are more in line with their natural state is likely to have better outcomes on an individual’s overall health than highly processed foods (Jones, 2013). Those in nutritionist school can relay this information to clients as they try to determine what exactly “healthy” means and looks like in their diets.
Jackfruit flesh and tofu undergo much less processing than options such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, and the likes. That being said, all of these foods are generally able to fit within a healthy, balanced diet, and may be the better choice when compared to a fast-food animal meat burger (Incorporating Plant-Based Meat Alternatives into Your Healthy Diet, 2022).
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Clifton, P M. (2017). A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29174025/.
Domingo, J. (2017). Carcinogenicity of consumption of red meat and processed meat: A review of scientific news since the IARC decision. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28450127/.
Hever, J. (2016). Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide. The Permanente Journal. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 fom https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991921/.
Incorporating Plant-Based Meat Alternatives into Your Healthy Diet. (2022) Nutrition. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-plant-based-meat-healthy.
Jones, B. (2013). Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods: Why Less Is Actually Better. Food & Nutrition. Retreivedon June 8, 2022 from https://foodandnutrition.org/blogs/stone-soup/whole-foods-vs-processed-foods-less-actually-better/
Saba, R. (2022). Time to go vegan? The price of meat is soaring — but plant-based alternatives will still cost you more, study finds. Toronto Star. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://www.thestar.com/business/2022/04/28/time-to-go-vegan-the-price-of-meat-is-soaring-but-plant-based-alternatives-will-still-cost-you-more-study-finds.html
Shoup, M. (2022). Future Farm CEO says future is still bright for plant-based meat: ‘We have to take responsibility for developing this category’. News & Analysis on Food & Beverage Development – North America. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2022/05/11/future-farm-ceo-says-future-is-still-bright-for-plant-based-meat-we-have-to-take-responsibility-for-developing-this-category
We Need to Talk About Meat. (2018). The Lancet. Retrieved on June 8, 2022 from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)32971-4/fulltext