Yesterday was a rather strange Thursday afternoon for me. I was looking for the best plant-based meat substitutes on the market. After about an hour, my apartment smelled surprisingly meaty, something I didn’t expect from so many non-meat products, and my stomach was full. I tasted every type of chicken, ground beef and plant based sausages I could find and some were great some not so much. My kitchen was littered with the carcasses of these products – cardboard boxes and plastic sleeves were all over my kitchen table. And then I started looking at the nutrition labels of these “meats”.
When I think about following a vegan diet, I almost always assume it will be healthier. After all, if you can’t eat animal products, the whole foods you can eat are fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, etc. But things like Oreos, Pringles, Sour Patch Kids and Takis are also vegan. After a particularly healing taste of a plant-based ground beef that tasted like a synthetic tire, I wondered if these substitutes were healthier than real meat. I mean, one of the reasons a lot of people go vegan is for health reasons, right?
Looking more closely at the nutrition labels, I saw ingredients like soy protein concentrate, sunflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, potato starch, apple extract, cocoa butter, methylcellulose, soy leghemoglobin and some long words I can’t pronounce. Is all this healthy? Or healthier?
Fortunately, the University of Minnesota has answered this question. Researchers from the School of Public Health wanted to know if ground beef or its plant-based alternatives are healthier. They took 37 plant-based ground beef alternatives made by nine companies and compared their nutritional value to that of ground beef.
“It’s a mixed bag,” says Lisa Harnack, professor and lead author of the study. “Plant-based ground beef alternatives tend to be a good source of nutrients like folate, fiber and iron. And most products have been found to contain significantly lower amounts of saturated fat compared to beef. chopped.”
What they lacked however was protein, zinc and vitamin B12. “Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products,” adds Harnack. “Beef is a great source of vitamin B12 in the American diet.” And compared to ground beef, many products were also high in sodium, which most Americans already consume too much.
Here is the good news. Due to the way they are developed, the formulations of these herbal products could be modified to help include the nutrients they lack – such as being fortified with B12 – and to reduce sodium levels. When shopping, just be sure to read the nutrition label on the back and make sure it meets your health needs.
The market for plant-based meat substitutes isn’t going away anytime soon, and for people who want to diet with fewer animal products, these products are a great way to do that. Because seriously, some of them are really good. And science finds a way to turn the most impossible animal products into something plant-based. We can only hope they taste good and to be in a good health.
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