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September 25, 2020

Is Vegan Meat Healthy?
A Look Into These Plant-Based Food Options

Rafid Nassir
Published by Rafid Nassir
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Burger King or McDonald’s are practically around every corner.

But what are you supposed to do if you are vegan and miss the taste of a good ol’ sloppy burger?

Luckily, there are numerous options available for vegans to indulge faux meats, such as Beyond Burger or the Impossible Burger from the popular Impossible Foods chain.

But the question that remains is this: is vegan meat healthy or not? Read on to find out the answer and perhaps even pick up some interesting facts about the fake meat industry, too.

First of all, due to various ethical and health-related reasons, more and more people started to cut meat and dairy products out of their diet.

Instead of highly processed animal meat, they are now opting for earth-friendly whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Of course, many certainly miss the flavor of beef, which might explain why vegan meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular.

There is also a rise in awareness of the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture, such as controlled forest burning and deforestation to create fields for grazing livestock. Not only does this loss of habitat result in the loss of many animal species [1], but it is also directly responsible for the increase in global temperatures [2].

“Consider deforestation rates and the bleaching of coral reefs from increased sea temperatures. This is one more piece of evidence to add to the list, one more example of the effect we're having on the planet.”

 

- Jerrold L. Belant, the Camp Fire Conservation Fund professor at ESF

What Is Vegan Meat?

It is worth noting that there is a massive difference between vegan meat substitutes and meatless substitutes.

They both use terms like faux, fake, and mock meat substitutes, but vegans should note that certain meatless substitutes often contain ingredients derived from animals. Think milk and eggs.

Vegan meat substitutes are the only genuine plant-based meat substitute. They are designed to mimic various animal products, like for example, burgers or sausages.

Such plant-based meat products are usually an excellent source of protein and are made from a variety of whole foods ingredients. In order to make them even more convenient for the kitchen, they are often pre-cooked as well.

Vegan meats are also fortified with numerous vitamins and minerals, which you would usually get from eating animal-based products. For example, it may contain healthy doses of cholesterol, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.

Some brands attempt to mimic the real taste and texture of animal meat. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are two great examples.

However, there are companies that do not have the seem intent (Quorn, Tofurky, and Boca) but are also a good source of protein and various nutrients you need to remain a healthy and happy vegan.

Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?

vegan meat header

Yes, vegan meat is healthy, but they should not be eaten on a daily basis.

No doubt, meat substitutes are an excellent option for those who are just starting to transition into a vegan diet, primarily because they can mimic the taste, texture, and smell of your favorite meats.

Similar to red meat, these vegan or vegetarian meats can cause health concerns if you consume too much.

Most of us are used to eating meat with almost every meal. When transitioning into veganism, you will quickly come to realize that you won’t necessarily need to chow down on meat or even a meat substitute every time hunger kicks in.

In fact, if you want to stay as healthy as possible, you should also try and limit your intake of meat alternatives as well.

However, when compared to red meat and highly processed foods, they are still a healthier alternative.

Vegan meats are often tailor-made and contain all the nutrients you require for a healthy life. Although it is possible to learn about the nutritional value of lean meat, avoiding it altogether will ensure you are not exposing yourself to possible contaminants. Hot tip: processed meat is often found to contain various pesticides, bacteria, hormones, and diseases [3].

How Much Salt Is In Vegan Meat?

It is recommended that we consume an average of 1 teaspoon of sodium (salt) a day [4].

Therefore, when you notice that many vegan meat alternatives contain half or even more of this recommended daily amount, it may be enough to cause concern.

But before you worry yourself any further, you need to remember that despite the risks of eating food with high salt levels, you are not supposed to be eating these foods too often, to begin with.

Certainly not every day, or even multiple times a week.

If eaten in moderation and alongside other more healthy options, then there is nothing really to worry about.

Is It Highly Processed?

Whole foods trump processed foods, hands down. But a common complaint in the vegan community is that some companies are indeed over-processing vegan meat burger alternatives. They usually produce plant-based meat that's high on sodium, fat, soy protein, and calories in general, which is not as good for your health as other options might be.

Unsurprisingly, this is giving plant-based meat products a bad rep.

Seeing so many of these vegan burgers on the menu in popular fast-food restaurants is not helping to sway the argument that veganism is indeed a healthier dietary option.

Of course, just like everything else in this world, not all companies are created equally. There are better brands available just as well as the ones it’s probably best to avoid.

If you can educate yourself about which brands offer quality products, hopefully, you will be able to build trust every time the craving for some healthy veggie meat kicks in.

Are Plant-based Meats More Expensive Than Animal Meats?

Yes, plant-based meat is more expensive when compared to processed meat from fast-food restaurants like Burger King.

At the present time, companies that sell vegan meat are struggling to keep up with demand. The industry is currently growing, but compared to meat products, it is still a fairly small industry.

This means that it is difficult to negotiate cheaper prices for the ingredients they need to make their products.

However, as with most industries, when they grow to a certain level and the number of consumers increases, the price for the products tend to drop.

Some predict it is only a matter of time before the change to vegan meats happens in full swing.

Until then, a number of manufacturers have come to realize that it is cheaper to use the crops they grow to make plant-based foods rather than use the crops to feed the animals that are afterward sent to slaughterhouses.

How Is Fake Meat Made?

Typically, vegan meat is made with soy protein powder or textured vegetable protein powder.

The molecular structure of this protein will need to be altered in order to create a convincing meat alternative.

This is important in terms of changing the texture. Soy protein, for example, is globular while the protein found in animal protein is fibrous.

Its molecular structure can be changed when exposed to heat, acid, or solvent.

The mixture is then run through a food extruder to reshape it with the aid of a gel, such as carrageenan or xanthan gum.

Other ways to make vegan meat is by using wheat gluten, which can be modified to resemble the chewiness of meat.

Vegan bacon can sometimes be made using seasoned coconut flakes, which possess a natural healthy fat when cooked to a crisp in a similar fashion as real bacon.

Quorn uses a different process altogether. They use a double-fermentation process that creates a fungus that is structurally similar to the protein found in animals.

Want to make your own? Try out these awesome vegan meat recipes.

Why Is Going Vegan Good?

There is much more to going vegan than simply sparing the lives of animals from a life of misery.

Let's look at some of the other reasons why you should consider going vegan:

  1. Eating meat is one of the main causes of climate change - Animal agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change, with nearly 91% of the original Amazon lost because of it [5]. The meat industry also generates more greenhouse gases than all of the other modes of transportation combined [6].
  2. The meat industry has been shown to exploit its workers - There are numerous risks that the workers have to face in the meat industry, from the risk of injury and overworking to respiratory disease and PTSD.
  3. Animal agriculture uses a lot of resources - The meat industry is heavy on resource use with 880 gallons of water used to produce just a single gallon of milk. Research has found that it takes 13% more fossil fuel to produce a pound of beef than a pound of soy [7].
  4. Too much meat is bad for you - There are numerous health problems associated with the consumption of meat products, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer [8]. Research has found that processed meat is as hazardous to your health as smoking cigarettes [9] and that people who live a vegetarian lifestyle lived an average of 3.6 years longer than those who consumed meat [10].
  5. Meat is often contaminated - The USDA has discovered that 90% of defects found in chicken were the results of “visible fecal contamination” [11]. They also found that 50% of all ground chicken for sale in stores were contaminated with hints of salmonella.
  6. The meat industry kills wildlife - Many wild animals are killed through pollution, climate change, and habitat loss. Also, some animals are slaughtered as they are seen as a threat to the industry.
  7. Meat production contributes to world hunger - We produce enough grain to feed the world, ensuring that no one goes hungry, yet we choose to feed most of it to animals [12]. Would it not make more sense that every human was fed and did not go hungry?
  8. They torture animals - In the USA, there is very little protection for the animals that are slaughtered. Many live in horrible conditions and are killed in inhumane ways.

Do We Recommend It?

There are various reasons why we would recommend vegan meat, especially if you are planning to transition into a vegetarian dieting or vegan lifestyle.

This fake meat imitates the highly processed beef burgers, sausages, and other products rich in fat that people are already familiar with. This makes it easy to integrate into your daily mealtime routine. Another benefit is that they are convenient too.

With the ethical and environmental concerns that surround the creation of animal foods being one of the hottest topics right now, it makes sense that people are considering the move to a healthier, more plant-based diet.

Not only is it an ethical matter, but the health benefits of “fake” or vegetarianism food should not be underestimated either.

If you love animals and value both their lives and your own, now it might be the time to switch up the menu!


References:

  1. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/scoe-otl020819.php
  2. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/measuring-role-deforestation-global-warming
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282798500_Chemical_contaminantion_of_red_meat
  4. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf
  5. https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/
  6. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6297
  7. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/664S/4690011
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26780279/
  9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ijc.30010
  10. http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2517494
  11. https://www.pcrm.org/news/news-releases/usda-refuses-protect-consumers-fecal-contamination-chicken-and-other-meat
  12. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11069

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Rafid Nassir is a health and fitness fanatic, with the main aim of maximising muscle mass and minimising body fat, with as little time investment as possible.
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