The last few years have seen steady rise in veganism and vegetarianism especially within the leading Millennial generation who seek healthy meat alternatives. Meat products and even fish, which has always been seen as a healthier meat alternative, has been taking fewer and fewer roles in our regular daily diet. Plant-based and clean eating is rapidly becoming the new norm.
This trend is caused by a couple of different factors like those trying to have a healthier lifestyle and those making moves in reaction to their raised awareness regarding sustainability and the massive impact of bulk meat and fish production on our environment. Another reason is the continuous protests by non-profit animal organizations pointing out our excessive meat consumption.
The days wherein devouring burgers on top of burgers is long gone and is now just reserved solely for meat “lovers.” Even the term “meat lover” as a self-identifier is not as cool as how it used to be. The same thing goes for hitting up your beloved burrito joint or fast-food place as plant-based meat replacements from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods tap the mainstream market. Because of them, it’s becoming more convenient for vegans and vegetarians to access food that is typically only consumed by carnivores.
Veggie burgers and meat-free burritos are not exactly new. These options have been on some select restaurant menus for decades. But the difference that this new surge of meat-free “meat” takes the game into a whole other level with the promise of looking, tasting, and bleeding like the actual thing. In short, they promise to be the exact copy of meat, without any meat. Of course, people started asking how this is possible.
According to Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian and consultant, people who favor plant-based eating habits, having meat alternatives is a great way to enjoy a “burger” and other meat-based meals. However, the notion that having meat replacements instead of actual meat is a healthier option is not entirely true.
Goodson notes that beef is part of the whole food group that provides us ten necessary nutrients like protein, iron, as well as B vitamins while most of the popular meat alternatives contain highly processed ingredients with fewer nutrients. While it is true that meat alternatives usually win the calorie battle, thus its shiny reputation in the health-conscious community, it contains almost the same amount of fat as a regular burger because it contains ingredients like coconut oil. In fact, most of these veggie meats contain more saturated fat and sodium than plain old lean red meat.
Another remarkable fact is that while these meat alternatives contain good ingredients like pea, beans, and rice proteins, they do not actually contain those actual vegetables. Simply put, it means that they do not count towards your average recommended servings per day. So, experts suggest that options like bean burgers or those made with actual vegetables and beans might be a better nutrient-rich option.
How can I get my protein?
Although plant-based eating definitely has the potential to be of great benefit to people and the environment, it is important to recognize that not all proteins are the same. So if you decide to get your protein mainly or solely from plants, you would have to be more decisive and informed about your eating habits.
The amino acids from plant-derived proteins aside from soy, are not as bioavailable as meat. Meaning, your body cannot absorb and use these proteins as efficiently.
Is there a better alternative to meat alternatives?
According to dieticians, if people want to lessen their meat consumption, it’s better to take a closer look at your lifestyle and what your main goals for doing it are. If you are going to be taking something away from your regular diet, you’ll have to add back nutrients from protein and fat through other alternatives to balance it out. Dieticians suggest picking nutrient-rich vegetables and high-quality fats from nuts, seeds, and avocados.
So, alternative meats can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, but they are not the perfect solution. As with everything in life, they should be eaten in moderation. At the end of the day, your best move is to go for less-processed food.
If you want to eat less meat and more plants, then the best thing to do is simply to eat more plants. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet and you should be good to go.