Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy? What a Dietitian has to say

Plant-based meats have taken the healthy eating world by storm. What was once a category reserved for rubbery soy-based sausages and chewy fake chicken nuggets is now a category that offers food that tastes really good.

But is plant-based meat healthy? Or is it just a food trend that sounds healthy when, in fact, it is not going to benefit our overall health?

What is Plant-Based Meat?

Meat products, such as beef, bacon and sausages, come from animal sources, such as pigs (pork), cows (beef) and chickens. On the other hand, plant-based meat may look and taste like your favorite meat, but is made from different meat-free ingredients, such as soy, pea, wheat gluten, pulses or even jackfruit.

Plant-based meats can also include added salt, artificial colors, flavors and processing aids to generate a “meat-like” sensory appeal, according to a 2021 article published in. Nutrients. So, plant-based bacon, meatballs and other plant-based meats will give you the same taste, texture and appearance as the traditional meat version but without any animal product content.

According to section 2022 i Nutrients, a large percentage of people choose to eat plant-based meat for animal welfare or environmental reasons. However, others choose these protein sources because they believe it is healthier than eating a piece of chicken, steak or other meat. Regardless of one’s motivation to eat these meat options, it’s clear that this trend isn’t going away anytime soon, as plant-based meat markets have grown significantly.

If you’ve been advised to limit your intake of processed meat, red meat or any animal product, plant-based meats seem like a natural solution that allows people to enjoy their favorite foods while meeting their health recommendations. they fulfill. However, according to some experts, it may be too good to be true and relying on plant-based bacon, sausages and other processed meat alternatives may not be the health solution we want. big.

Health Benefits of Eating Plant-Based Proteins

Lean meat can be a healthy part of an overall diet. And according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults following a 2,000-calorie diet should aim for a 26-ounce equivalent of this food group (meat, poultry, eggs) each week if not they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. . While eating the recommended amounts of meat can help people avoid nutritional gaps and fuel their bodies with bioavailable protein, eating too much meat on a consistent basis can set a person up to develop certain chronic diseases, including -includes cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, according to section 2024. published i Preventive Nutrition and Food Science.

Review published in 2023 i Advances in Food and Nutrition Research shows the potential benefits of eating less meat and replacing it with simple plant-based protein sources, such as legumes and tofu. For example, this review cites evidence that replacing 3% of daily energy intake from processed red meat with plant-based sources could reduce the risk of all-cause mortality by 12%. There is also evidence to suggest that this simple act can reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

While it may seem like eating ultra-processed plant-based meat products as a substitute for meat products would have the same benefits, some data suggests that this is not always the case.

Are Plant-Based Meat Products Healthy?

There’s nothing quite like biting into a freshly made BLT sandwich or a juicy hot dog during a summer cookout. But since eating too much meat, especially processed meat, is associated with unhealthy health outcomes, it makes sense why people would seek out other foods that could give them the same satisfaction from the foods eat these classics but without the risks.

This has led to the creation of plant-based bacon, sausages, hamburgers, hot dogs, meatballs and other meat-based options made in plant-based form. And because the term “plant-based” is included in these items, many people assume they are healthy options, and some experts are saying that animal welfare claims are interpreted as supporting health, according to a 2020 review in . Foods.

According to a study published in 2021 i Nutrients, before plant-based meat options were available, those who chose to eat less meat and choose more plant-based protein options relied on single-ingredient foods such as tofu, lentils and nuts, and prepared dishes that ‘this resulted with a minimum of oil and salt. In contrast, plant-based sausages, burgers and nuggets are more often fried, made with salt and “stuffing ingredients” that offer no nutritional benefit and are often served with low-nutrition sides and condiments. Data from the article shows that regularly eating these ultra-processed plant-based meats can lead to higher calorie, fat and salt intake.

In fact, according to the results of a 2021 study that compared the nutritional intake of people who followed a traditional omnivore (meat-eating) diet, flexible/vegetarian diets that included traditional plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts, and flexible/ vegetables. including plant-based meat options such as meatless bacon, researchers found significant differences among those who included these plant-based meat items.

Specifically, they found that those who ate plant-based meat fell below the daily requirements for calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12. In addition, those who ate these foods exceeded the reference values ​​for sugar, saturated fat and sugar. This group ate more fiber than the meat.

Unlike those following a diet that replaces meat with plant-based meat, those who replaced meat with plant-based protein sources such as legumes, nuts and soybeans met all daily micronutrient requirements.

Thus, while protein intakes were similar among all diet groups, intakes of other nutrients varied, and the results ultimately did not show a health benefit for those who chose plant-based meat. .

Although there are known health benefits of reducing meat intake and eating more plant-based proteins, at this point, it is not known whether these benefits continue when people choose plant-based meat options.

Many newer plant-based meat products are similar in calories and protein to animal-based protein sources. But they may be lower in calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12 and higher in sodium and fat after being prepared. This means that these foods are not always a healthier alternative in the long run. If consumed normally, reliance on these foods could create nutritional deficiencies for consumers.

If you enjoy plant-based meat options and want to continue including them in your diet, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Enjoy plant-based meats as part of a balanced diet that includes other sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts and seeds.
  2. Consider supplementing with key nutrients, such as vitamin B12, if you are avoiding other protein sources.
  3. A plant-based meat alternative that is low in saturated fat and sodium.
  4. Eat plant-based meats with healthy foods and drinks, such as whole grains and vegetables.

The Bottom Line

Plant-based meats can be a healthy part of a balanced diet if you enjoy them in the right way. Eating plant-based meats in moderation along with fruits, veggies and other nutrient-dense foods can greatly support your health. But eating plant-based bacon, sausages and hot dogs as your protein source and avoiding options like legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains is not a path that will support the health results you want to see.

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