Is Plant-based Meat Healthy?
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My name is Marcie Vaske and I'm a functional medicine nutritionist specializing in gut health. So I see a lot of people who struggle with constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and that's just to name a few, really.
If this resonates with you, I encourage you to make an initial appointment with us, and if you're the kind of person who likes to take things into your own hands, you can download our free guide, Five Ways to Improve Gut Health.
Today we are going talk about an interesting topic, it maybe a little bit controversial, but pretty fun. Are plant-based meats actually healthy for you?
Let's dig in.
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, or even just someone who just likes to incorporate some plant-based products into their diet, you've may have wondered, are these plant-based meats actually healthy for me?
Many people believe that eating plant-based meats will benefit their health and the environment. And yes, plant-based meats could be a sustainable answer to some global concerns.
But the question we're going to discuss today is: are they actually healthy for you?
Let's dig into some research. There was a study done in 2021 that found that people who chose to eat plant-based proteins that opted for more traditional protein like tofu, lentils, or nuts, had dishes that were typically lower in damaged fats as well as damaged oils and sodium.
So in comparison to the plant-based meats that are out there now, like mock sausages, burgers, or even nuggets that you can find, they are oftentimes filled with fillers that don't offer the same nutritional benefit that traditional, non processed, plant-based proteins do.
And data from the article showed that regularly consuming these ultra-processed meats can increase a person's caloric intake, sodium intake, as well as consuming too many damaged fats.
They also found that those who consume more processed meatless alternatives have a lower amount of nutrients verses those who consume more of the traditional plant based proteins like we mentioned above.
Nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and b12. And those are all important vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function properly.
Those that were eating, the plant based meat alternatives were also showing higher values in the amount of sugar and saturated fats that they were consuming.
So already it seems like meat substitutes might not be the first thing that you want to reach for, but let's keep looking further into it. Especially since plant based meat products are being marketed like they are great alternative products.
You might be wondering; well, why is it that these products are lower in essential vitamins and minerals and are also higher in damaged fats and sugar content? Well, what's happening is that they are adding in fillers to make them tastier and taste more like meat.
We don't want to eat something that tastes like rubber, so they put all of these extra things them so that we actually enjoy eating them.
These new plant-based meats are containing minimal amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, b12, and are higher in sodium and unhealthy fats like canola oil.
However, what they do have is around the same amount of protein as a animal protein does. So that makes it pretty easy to market that way.
Now of course different brands of plant-based meats are going to vary in nutrient density as well as their strengths and shortcomings. So, let's dig into the details a little bit.
What should you be looking for when you are deciding which plant based meats to purchase? Because as you know, manufacturers use a variety of products to create a plant-based meat.
Some of the things that they use are: vital wheat gluten or Seitan, soy and tofu, potato starch, coconut oil, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and in some cases certain vegetables.
Now, because manufacturers use such a wide variety of products in these plant-based meats, when you order or purchase one of these options, you could be getting something with a wide variety of different things inside of it.
Really understanding what you're purchasing and putting into your body is important. You might find a plant-based burger that's made up of mushrooms and beans which sounds great and nutritious right? It's fresh, it has more nutrients in it, and it's going to have more fiber in it as well.
Some other things that you mind find in a plant based product are pea protein, or soy and vital wheat protein. Vital wheat is not good for individuals with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, or soy sensitivities.
So, you know, again, asking the questions, reading the labels, is going to get you the best product. We're not saying that they're all bad!
It's important to remember that some brands are wonderful, you just need to look at the fine lines and details, and find the one that's going to be best for you and your body.
There was a study done in 2019 where they nutritionally profiled plant-based products and compared them to the meat counterparts. What they were looking for specifically in this study was sodium.
They took a variety of different plant-based meat products, such as burgers, chicken products, sausages, and compared it to the animal protein products. What they found is that only 4% of the plant-based products were lower in sodium than the animal product.
So what we're learning here is that a lot of these plant-based meats have a lot of sodium in them, with the average being roughly 500 milligrams in every 3.5 ounces.
However, it varied greatly, and some plant-based meat products went all the way up to 1200 milligrams of sodium in three and a half ounces of the product. That's pretty significant!
Other items that you want to make sure to be looking for are artificial ingredients. And so you just want to basically avoid long lists and words under the ingredients of artificial ingredients lists.
Look out for fillers or additives. I always say, if you can't read the word or understand what the word means, it's probably something your body doesn't know what to do with either. So put it back on the shelf.
Another thing to look for is added sugars, and you're probably thinking added sugar in a meat protein or a plant-based meat protein? Yeah, they put sugar in everything. You want to be really diligent about looking for words like fructose, maltose, glucose and any words ending in O S E.
Those will indicate a type of sugar that's being added to the product. We're always thinking and looking about ways to decrease added sugars in our diet because over the years we've learned that that's just not something we want to be consuming.
If you're going to be eating something every day, you want make sure you're minimally eating those added sugars. So watch out for those in plant-based meat products.
Another thing you want to keep an eye out for is damaged oils. Oftentimes damaged oils get overlooked because you might be focused on looking for sugars or fillers.
Damaged oils you might find are: canola oil, soybean oil, and vegetable oils.
You want to stay away from those above as they do harm to our bodies, and we don't need to do any more damage to ourselves. Right?
Lastly, something you do want to see on the ingredient list is healthy fats! Coconut oil and avocado oils are a great thing to see in there. Not all oils are bad.
To summarize, you can add plant-based meats to your diet! Make you are checking the ingredient lists before you take them home and don't forget to include other nutritious proteins into your diet like nuts, beans, and seeds.
If you are a vegetarian or even a vegan, make sure that you're supplementing with key nutrients like B12, magnesium, and potassium to ensure they you are getting everything that you need. Especially if you're lower on some of the traditional vegetarian or plant-based proteins.
A mixture of fruits and vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, and mixing and matching your plant-based proteins with nutrient dense proteins, is going to give you the best nutrient value and support your body as well as it can.
If you'd like to explore any, of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
Or you can start by just downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 Ways to Improve Gut Health.