Is Vegan Meat Healthy?
Veggie burgers aren’t just for vegetarians anymore. Cruise down the refrigerated and frozen aisles of the grocery store, and you’ll see all kinds of packaged meat alternatives, from standard bean-based veggie burgers to “chicken” nuggets to vegan bacon.
There’s also a new generation of faux meat products that are highly processed to mimic the look, flavour and texture of the real thing (some even “bleed” like a burger or piece of steak would).
For anyone looking to pare back their meat consumption, these products can help ease the transition. But just because a product is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you should think of it as a health food that belongs on your plate every day, says registered dietitian Camille Skoda, RDN, LD.
What Is Vegan Meat?
Vegan meat is a common term used to describe meat alternatives. Vegan meat comes in many forms, from veggie patties to more extreme products like seitan and lab-grown meat. These products are made from plants instead of animals, and they are completely plant-based.
But these products are not as safe for people like meat, says animal welfare advocate and author Rebecca Silke. They’re also not the same as non-dairy milk or cheese alternatives. While many vegan meat products may be plant-based and gluten-free, a lot goes into making them unhealthy. “In terms of the animals, the majority are pork,” Silke says, pointing to companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and the soon-to-launch Memphis Meats.
That’s a surprisingly big and controversial topic. Those who follow a strict vegan diet eschew any animal-derived products from their diets and don’t just limit themselves to fruit juices. Vegan meats are made up of vegetable proteins like soy and nuts but aren’t technically meat – for example, they aren’t crumbled up on a plate, braised or grilled to be eaten.
They’re sold in a wide variety of forms, including pre-prepared frozen meals, sticks and patties, pre-made vegan burgers and sausages, sauces, and even fake meatballs. Each type of vegan meat comes with its own set of nutritional benefits. Some, like cashew-based products, have less fat than some types of meat alternatives.
What Should You Know About Vegan Meat?
Because vegan “meat” products don’t contain any animal products and may contain some grains or other artificial additives, vegans with high blood pressure, diabetes, or other health concerns should steer clear of them, at least until the claims of healthiness are backed up with evidence.
Unless you’re a confirmed vegan who’s used to cooking with animal products, any meat alternative is going to taste better when cooked than it would when raw. It’s tempting to slide a label-less package of fake meat onto the barbecue, but your BBQ-cooking skills are a lot less impressive than a fake pet, so be wary. Are vegan meats good for the environment? Don’t worry – vegans make the planet just fine.
- Many vegan types of meat are not certified or regulated.
- They’re made mostly from wheat, soy, nuts and a few other ingredients.
- They usually take longer to cook than real meat.
- Some vegan meats may contain milk protein, eggs or milk.
- They don’t necessarily taste the same as the real thing.
Veganist Cookbook The Veganist: Inventing The Good Life, by Euan Mearns
If you’re someone who has considered becoming a vegan but isn’t sure it’s the best choice, The Veganist is the book for you. Euan Mearns, a British journalist, is the author of the bestselling memoir The Culture Eater, exploring his decision to eliminate all animal products from his diet and follow a plant-based diet. Mearns was a strong advocate for vegetarianism before becoming vegan.
The first thing to know is that many of these products are highly processed—and with such modifications, there are some serious health implications. Some veggie burgers and vegan nuggets come from soy, gluten or the oil derived from soy, linked to everything from heart disease and early prostate cancer to other conditions.
One study also links processed soy products to diabetes, so some experts recommend consuming only organic soy foods. In contrast, some meat-alternative products are plant-based with no grains or soy at all—leaving little to no chance of nutrient overload.
Is Vegan Meat Healthy?
The short answer is no. There’s a lot of debate on whether or not eating meat is healthy. Some experts say we should eat meat to make up for the vitamins and nutrients we lose when eating our vegetables (like calcium and iron). Others say the opposite – that if you replace beef with beans, you’ll be fine.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. For vegans, the effects of eating a meatless diet can vary. Some can cope fine eating many legumes, but others have complained of loss of appetite and extreme fatigue from cutting meat from their diet. The best way to stay informed about what’s healthy for you and your health is to talk to your doctor. Are Vegan Meats Real Meats? In a sense, plant-based meats are the real deal.
Nutritionists may disagree, but the possibility has its supporters. Studies have suggested that eating vegan meat may be a good option if you’re trying to lose weight. Still, I’m inclined to agree with my colleague, Health Editor Roseanne Balaro, who noted in a previous article that a vegan diet “probably won’t cut it” for anyone with an egg allergy or other food allergies or intolerances.
But there is one big catch with vegan meat: in my experience, it tastes horrible. Not only do the products tend to be pretty expensive, but they also don’t taste great. What’s more, the processed meat flavour is rarely very appealing. As a health nut, I used to love the idea of eating a diet that consisted entirely of fruits, veggies and grains.
The jury’s still out on that. Consumption of plant-based protein has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but this remains a topic of much debate among experts. Some people might avoid meat but are primarily health-conscious and concerned about their health; others might give up meat because they’re vegetarians by choice.
The issue is complicated by a broader body of studies that show that a vegan diet is often less healthy than a traditional one, perhaps because of increased consumption of refined carbohydrates, dairy fat and sugar. While a vegan diet can offer several health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, others aren’t as clear.
The Health Benefits Of Vegan Meat
Vegan meat options are becoming increasingly popular, especially since they’re less expensive than traditionally farmed meat and are less likely to create food allergies. It’s important to note that most commercially available veggie burgers are made using animal ingredients like most beef and chicken burgers, such as soy and grain meat. In contrast, “vegetarian” meat alternatives are usually made from soy or wheat, not vegan.
That said, the vast majority of veggie burgers and other meat-free products being sold in the US are made using alternative proteins that don’t contain animal products, as well as vegetable proteins that have been modified, so they do not contain or contain very few (if any) animal products.
As I mentioned above, vegan meat substitutes are now available in various forms, from the more health-conscious “crumbles” to the “grilled strips” that come wrapped in plastic. We recently tested all the leading brands to see which ones are the healthiest and most nutritious, and the winner is….
1. Gardein Vegan meal kits are becoming more popular, and Gardein is a leader in the “meal kit” arena. Its new spring 2015 line of products includes three new pre-portioned meat products:
- Memphis Meats Chicken Teriyaki,
- Gardein Deli-Style Tuna Delicata, and
- Gardein Grilled Spring Vegetable Slaw.
These are just a few of Gardein’s new vegan “meals” for the spring of 2015, but don’t be fooled by their healthy-sounding names – each one is loaded with sugar and trans fat.
There’s a huge amount of scientific evidence that supports the benefits of a plant-based diet and eating meat in moderation. Vegan meat is already considered healthier than meat raised in conventional slaughterhouses, and the recent “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report warns that if the world continues to eat meat at current rates, in 2050, meat consumption will account for at least 13.5% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
If you really care about the health of your planet, the kind of food you’re eating and the health of animals, it’s almost impossible not to eat meat responsibly. In the US, this means switching over to an animal-product-free diet, or at the very least cutting back drastically on the amount of meat you consume.
The Challenges Faced By Fake Meat
But when it comes to health, how healthy are they really? When you think about it, they’re not much more than highly processed vegetable strips. To this day, we have many questions about how these products were created, how long they’re supposed to last in the refrigerator and how long they’ll last sitting out at room temperature before spoiling. In most cases, the only real difference between vegetarian protein and meat substitutes is the form and way they’re made.
Before they became popular, products like veggie burgers, imitation bacon and mock chicken nuggets were highly processed and often just plain nasty-tasting. There was no such thing as a good imitation chicken nugget or veggie burger, and they certainly didn’t taste like the real thing.
Today, they’ve become more sophisticated and healthier. But they still lack the full flavour and texture of the real thing. That’s why some are making an effort to go non-GMO and promote healthy ingredients. Despite those limitations, vegan meats are getting a bad rap, and they don’t get the same bad rap as other popular diets such as Paleo or Keto.
But while veggie burgers and faux chicken nuggets are gaining a following, they’re not going to save the world. (Or be some magic bullet against climate change.) In this article, we’re going to talk about the three key challenges with the sale of such meat analogues to consider whether they are healthy or not.
One – how do the products compare to animal-based meat? This is probably the most significant point of concern, as veggie burgers and faux chicken nuggets are fundamentally inferior to the real thing in most ways that matter. They’re junk foods, simple, flavourless substances. You won’t be surprising anyone by calling them junk food.
The Environmental Impact Of Vegan Meat
The biggest downside to vegan meats, however, maybe their environmental impact. While they look and cook like meat, vegan meats generally have a lower nutritional value than most meats. Eating plants instead of animals save animals from slaughterhouses, but there’s an environmental cost to producing vegetables and grain.
One pound of beans or rice requires more water to produce than a pound of meat, for example, and transportation is one of the biggest sources of pollution. Vegans also consume less oil, which is cleaner and less carbon-intensive. A plant-based diet could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 400 million tons per year, potentially translating into a 37 percent reduction in the world’s carbon footprint.
Meat production is a big, wasteful problem. Vast amounts of resources are required to produce animals for food. By eating animals, we’re not only polluting our environment but also depleting the land and water sources needed to grow grain for grain-based products like the frozen tofu soy milk served in grocery stores.
With plant-based meats, you’re not contributing to climate change or feeding an overpopulation of farm animals, and the environmental impacts of both vegetarian and vegan diets are minimal. They’re also generally cheaper than animal products, and meatless “steaks” cost much less to produce and ship than an actual steak. Vegan Meats Don’t Require a Healthy Vegan Diet Vegan meats aren’t intended to replace any other foods in a person’s diet.
One of the main benefits of vegan meats is their lower environmental impact, especially compared to animal products. The meat industry is largely responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it produces 20% of the total pollution in the world.
And while a vegetarian diet is good for the environment, reducing meat consumption to nothing is even more beneficial. How much vegan meat is actually worth buying? The New York Times recently put together a guide to veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs and veggie chicken nuggets (one of its ads for the products made the infamous claim that they “bleed like the real thing.
Are Vegan Meats Healthier Than Actual Meat?
While the products available on grocery store shelves aren’t quite ready for prime time (as in they’re not being subjected to the kinds of food science tests required for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), new ones are continually hitting the market. With a nutritional analysis in hand, vegan and vegetarian experts have issued their take on the healthiness of these products.
Lea Terry, the owner of a health food store in North Carolina, has tried several brands of vegan “meat,” including Gardein, Beyond Meat and Tofurky. “[There are] many misconceptions out there about vegan meat, and I’d like to help clear up some of them,” Terry says. “First of all, the ingredients are plant-based and very high in nutritional value.
Healthy claims are rampant on the labels of these faux meats. The brands claim they have virtually no cholesterol, are packed with nutrients, and have more than one-fifth of real chicken or beef fat. A couple of years ago, a vegan restaurant in NYC even sold “meat” pizzas topped with quinoa and kale.
While many Americans are eager to shift their diet away from meat, their desire for “healthy” products is often overlooked when they hit the grocery store shelf. Veggie burgers, for example, are often described as a “health food,” despite them containing more calories and fat than traditional meat products. And when it comes to some of the more heavily marketed faux meats, the results of a recent Canadian study show that health benefits are a huge exaggeration.
Yes. Although veggie burgers, nuggets and bacon can taste just as juicy and, yes, just as good, their production methods are far less sustainable and realistic to replicate. For example, a single pound of uncured beef, chicken or fish takes more than four pounds of plant-based protein. Although veggie burgers, nuggets and bacon can taste just as juicy and, yes, just as good, their production methods are far less sustainable and realistic to replicate.
Research suggests that the average American consumes about 136 pounds of meat a year, which means at least 63 pounds is due to vegan meats, which is quite an improvement. And, they're actually healthier for you, according to a small new study published in the British Medical Journal.
How To Know If Meat Is Vegan?
If you see a package that is labelled as a “vegetarian product” or “vegan product” and the ingredients are recognizable as plant-based, you’ve got a decent chance of it being vegan. Most of these products are fortified with vitamin B12 or other nutrients that a vegetarian wouldn’t require.
The main exceptions are processed vegan meats such as “chicken” nuggets loaded with added sodium. You’ll also want to be sure you’re buying only factory-made, not raw products. Raw vegan meats, which are plant-based and can be made of spices, herbs and even veggies, are great, but because of their lower heat-assuring temperatures, it’s always better to cook any vegan food that needs to be eaten within a few hours.
The vast majority of the faux meat products on the market — from veggie burgers to faux steak to faux bacon — are made of soy protein and water. Not surprisingly, both are animal products. Luckily, vegetarian proteins like peas, garbanzo beans, lentils, and soy products commonly produce vegan alternatives.
“Like many other plant foods, legumes are high in protein, so it’s a great meat substitute to eat,” Marybeth Carty, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Time. She notes that these foods are healthy as a stand-alone or meat alternative because they’re high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc.
How To Buy Meat Alternatives
If you’re new to the world of vegan meats and even considering becoming a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you’re selecting food suitable for your body. A vegetarian diet can be healthy if done in moderation, but vegans often choose a plant-based diet for health reasons and still need to watch their health as they do so.
It’s important to keep in mind that vegan meat alternatives don’t meet the nutritional requirements of many Americans. There are a few brands that meet nutritional recommendations, but they tend to be pricey. For example, non-dairy “chicken” nuggets can cost up to two or three times more than traditional chicken nuggets, which have 8-10 grams of protein and 1-2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
In terms of product safety and satisfaction, veggie burgers pale in comparison to the animals we kill. We don’t leave animals to suffer on slaughter lines. The animals we kill rarely suffer in the first place, and even if they did, we wouldn’t. A fully processed ground-beef patty — except for the veggie patty in the film Animal, whose mouth is open for its last breath — still has an easily chewed through the top crusty coating.
Underneath, the hamburger patty is rock hard and dry. We wouldn’t eat a crunchy, salty slice of pepperoni pizza without licking a knife, too. Plus, even though veggie burgers still carry a health label warning not to eat more than 10 percent of your diet in a day, many of them are over 50 percent.
While many people would still argue that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest choice in terms of animal welfare, health, and even environmental impact, it’s good for the world if it's good for you. And in the case of veganism, at least for the time being, its impact is currently the healthiest of any food or diet.
Although a vegetarian diet can provide plenty of protein, many people get overwhelmed by the amount of food they can eat, leading to not eating enough of the healthful plant foods that do so much for the body. On the other hand, a vegan diet is centred on nutrient-dense plant foods, and with few animal products to be concerned with, a person can feel comfortable eating a diet heavy in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
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