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Is eating plant-based meat healthy?

vegan-weight-gain-nutritionist
8 min reading time

You’ve started a plant-based diet and have found yourself eating veggie ground beef, nuggets and burgers. You may be asking yourself or the internet, is eating plant-based meat healthy?

 

Continue reading for information and my perspective on “is eating plant-based meat healthy”.

plant-based meat alternatives

What are the types of plant-based meat alternatives?

With a new demand and consumer market for meat analogues, the supply available at supermarket is vast. You may even find yourself overwhelmed by choice. 

 

Between Gardein, Yves, Beyond Meat and more you may find yourself wondering is eating plant-based meat healthy?

 

Continue reading to learn more about some of the meat alternatives available at the supermarket near you. 

 

This article will also consider some of the advantages and disadvantages to these products. 

 

1. What is Seitan? 

Seitan is a meat-like food that is made from wheat gluten. Seitan is commonly found in many vegetarians and/or vegan dishes.

 

You may have heard Seitan other’s name and may also be known to you as “wheat meat”. 

 

It can be found in ultra-processed products as well.

 

Have you tried Franklin Farms’ marinated chicken style seitan or Sweet Earth’s traditional seitan strips. Upton’s Naturals even makes simulated bacon made from Seitan. 

 

2. What is beyond meat?

Beyond meat is a plant-based company that supplies vegan burger meat, vegan sausages, and vegan crumbles. 

 

It is made of a variety of plant proteins including pea, mung beans, and faba beans. 

 

3. Is jackfruit a meat alternative?

While jackfruit is a delicious fruit it does have negligible quantities of protein (~2 g protein/100 calories).

 

Therefore, if you end up eating jackfruit as a meal you may find you’re not full and may even feel unsatisfied, following. 

 

You can purchase plain canned jackfruit at your local supermarket. 

 

Jackfruit is also sold as flavoured varieties such as mock pulled “pork” or mock pulled “chicken”. 

 

Due to the lower protein content in jackfruit compared to other meat analogues consider pairing jackfruit with other plant based protein sources such as hummus, or other legumes!

 

To read more about jackfruit check out this article titled What is Jackfruit? How the Hottest Vegan Meat was Found in a Fruit.

 

4. What are soy-based meat products? 

Soy products are produced from the soybean legume. They contain high amounts of protein. 

 

Soybeans also contain polyunsaturated fat. The primary polyunsaturated fat in a typical diet is known as the essential fatty acid: omega 6 or n-6 linoleic acid. 

 

Research studies demonstrate that when saturated fats (found in meats) are replaced with polyunsaturated fats (found in soybeans) it has been linked to a reduced of  bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

 

The most common soy products which you may already be familiar with are tofu, tempeh, and edamame. 

 

To read more about soybeans check out this article from Cleveland Clinic on Soy Foods.

Tofu used in a salad as meat alternative

5. Is tofu a meat alternative?

Tofu is an excellent protein source for vegans and vegetarians. 

 

It is also lower in calories than meat products and is a good source of calcium and iron for vegans and vegetarians. 

 

6. What is tempeh?

Similar to tofu, tempeh is an great protein source for vegans and vegetarians. 

 

Tempeh is frequently made by fermenting soy but can also be produced by fermenting millet or rice. 

 

Frequently, it is seasoned with soy sauce (which contains wheat) so careful with Tempeh if you have Celiac disease or follow a gluten free diet. 

 

The advantages and disadvantages of meat analogues

 

Advantages

There are positive benefits to becoming vegan for you, the environment, and the animals. To read more about them check out this blog article titled “A beginner’s guide to starting a vegan diet”.

 

Continue reading to learn more about the specific benefits of plant-based meat substitutes for you and the environment. 

 

For you

Generally, plant-based meat substitutes are lower in both total fat and saturated fat than animal meat products. 

 

Similarly, plant proteins generally are higher in fibre than animal protein products. 

 

Research shows that diets higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat results in a lower risk of heart disease.

 

There are additional benefits of consuming plant-based meat alternatives, even the ultra-processed ones. 

 

For example, traditional methods of food processing increase shelf life and can help sustain food security and the environmental impact of food processing. 

 

Other processing methods, including cooking and fermentation may increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients as well as introducing favorable microorganisms that have purported benefits for the human gut microbiome. 

 

For the environment

Plant-based meat substitutes, even the ultra-processed ones have a beneficial impact on the environment. 

 

While meat analogues often taste like meat, they are less resource intensive than beef production.

 

Disadvantages

While there are many advantages to consuming plant-based meat products there are some disadvantages. 

 

For example, while dried legumes and tofu are inexpensive products other plant-based meat alternatives can be more costly.

 

Continue reading for some of the other disadvantages and considerations to be made about plant-based meat products.

 

Health and level of processing considerations

It is important to consider the level of processing of each product. Researchers from Brazil suggested that diets high in industrialized food products have negative health consequences. 

 

Processing may change the composition of food and often have many ingredients. 

 

For example, a black bean burger purchased at the grocery store will have a different nutrient profile than canned or dried black beans. 

 

Furthermore, you can expect store purchased black bean burgers to be higher in sodium and total fat as compared to black bean burgers made at home.

 

Processing can result in a reduction of the amount of fibre and reducing the quantity and quality of protein. 

 

In addition, processing often results in the addition of preservatives, oils, natural and/or artificial colouring and seasonings. 

 

Emerging literature suggests that food processing is correlated with certain health outcomes.

 

A high-quality research study found that when matched for calories, energy density, macronutrients, sugar, sodium and fiber, those presented with ultra-processed diets will consume more food ad libitum. 

 

The authors found that this was highly linked with changes to body weight compared to those with minimally processed diets .

 

The nutritional value of plant-based meat products

You may be wondering how do these products compare to one another in terms of their nutritional content?

 

The table below compares 85 g of each product and shows the important nutrition information you could be looking at.

Product

Calories 

(kcal)

Protein

(g)

Total Fat (g)

Saturated Fat (g)

Total carbohydrate (g)

Total Fibre

(g)

Sodium

(mg)

Iron

(mg)

Calcium

(mg)

Sunrise extra firm tofu

130

14

8

1

3

0

5

2

75

Sunrise smoked tofu

140

14

8

1

2

0

300

1.5

250

Beyond Meat Burger

(nutrition table serving is 113g)

204

17

12.8

5.1

7.7

1.7

315

4.7

34

Green Cuisine Tempeh Burger

126

11

3.8

0

6

2

390

0.4

66

Beyond Meat Veggie Link

(nutrition table serving is 100g)

238

16.2

17.9

7.7

4.3

1.7

349

4.3

34

Alternative Kitchen Veggie Salami

(nutrition table serving is 40g)

213

8.5

14.9

0

10.6

2.1

893

3.2

43

Yves Veggie Ground Round

(nutrition table serving is 55g)

93

13.9

1.5

0

6.2

3.1

417

3.2

68

Big Mountain Cauliflower Crumble – Veggie Ground

180

3

7

2

29

12

210

2.3

30

Sweet Earth – Traditional Seitan Strips

130

22

3

0.5

6

0

340

2

24

Upton’s Naturals – Bacon Seitan

(nutrition table serving is 57g)

 

119

22.4

0.7

0

7.5

1.5

596

1.9

45

 

When looking at the nutrition information for the products in this table you may notice that these products are often low in saturated fat and high in protein.

 

Contrary, you may notice that many of these products are high in sodium and low in fibre. 

 

Despite this, these products can still be enjoyed occasionally as part of a healthy and complete diet. 

 

How to choose healthier plant-based meat products

When choosing healthier plant-based meat substitutes picking items that are whole such as beans, legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are the best options. 

 

However, if you’re in the mood for a quick meal or are picking up items for a BBQ compare products and choose items:

  • Lower in saturated fat per serving
  • Lower in added sodium per serving
  • Lower or no added sugars per serving
  • Higher in protein per serving
  • Higher in fibre per serving
  • With added vitamins or minerals such as Vitamin B12, Iron, Calcium and/or Vitamin D. 

In addition, try avoiding foods with artificial ingredients, fillers, seasonings and/or additives.

vegan nutritionist

Choosing what’s best for you

In conclusion, the answer to the question “is eating plant-based meat healthy?” is not black or white.

 

It is important to remember that a vegan or vegetarian diet that is flexible and balanced will meet your nutrient requirements. 

 

With all the plant-based meat analogues available, listening to your body and feeding it based on your desires and cravings is important. 

 

In addition, when it comes to choosing plant-based protein and meat substitutes, choosing products based on your own personal values is most important. 

 

For example, if you’re looking for non-GMO foods choose products labelled organic or non-GMO Project verified. 

 

Similarly, if you are looking to reduce your salt intake, choosing whole foods such as legumes, tofu, or less processed products will be the way to go.

 

If you’re looking for more information or would like to transition away from ultra-processed plant foods, consider talking to a vegan nutritionist. 

 

I offer counselling for vegan and vegetarian diets and I can help you develop strategies to cope with your new diet changes!