A vegan or vegetarian diet is associated with numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease and supporting weight loss. Plant-based diets are also best for the environment and animals, so many people find valuable reasons to become vegan or vegetarian.
It was not many years ago that becoming vegan almost unequivocally meant that your diet would immediately become healthier, as there were very few processed vegan foods, which means that vegans would really only have the most nutritious foods and complete to choose from. The vegan diet consisted almost entirely of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, which led to superior diet quality and even greater health benefits.
However, as the popularity of vegan diets and plant-based foods increased, food manufacturers responded with many plant-based meat options, or vegan meat alternatives to replace carnivorous counterparts. These days, there are plant-based meats for almost every type of animal protein, from vegan burgers to vegetable dogs, vegan chicken pieces to taco crumbles. There are also vegan roasts, vegan bacon, vegan sausages and all sorts of vegan flavored wings and ribs with icing and sauces that mimic everything you can get in chicken, pork or beef. But are plant-based meats really healthy? Does eating vegan meat alternatives make the vegan diet no longer beneficial to your health? Are plant-based meats healthier than regular animal meat? Keep reading to find out.
What are plant-based gums?
Plant-based meats refer to food products that mimic animal meat products but are made from soy or other legumes, wheat, yeast or other plants. They can also be called “fake” meats, “meat alternatives” or “vegan meats”. Plant-based meats are vegan or vegetarian alternatives to animal and meat meats like burgers, chicken, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ham, hot dog, ribs, wings, chicken, chilled, tuna, shrimp, salmon, turkey, and roast.
Are gums plant-based vegan?
All plant-based meats are vegetarian, but not necessarily vegan. Some include eggs or dairy, so if you are following a vegan diet, be sure to check the label for the full list of ingredients. Honey-barbecue-flavored chicken ovens or chicken pieces may also contain real honey.
What are plant-based meats used to make?
Most plant-based meats are made from soy and / or wheat gluten, as both are high in protein and can be used to create a meat-like structure without giving too much natural flavor. Therefore, if you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, it is imperative that you read the label on a plant-based meat product for potential allergens.
In addition to soy and gluten, other common ingredients in plant-based meats include other legumes such as peas and pea protein, lentils and beans; potato starch, eggs, nuts and seeds, mushrooms and vegetables.
Health benefits of plant-based meat
There is a fairly large range of nutritional facts and ingredients in plant-based meats available these days. However, in general, the health benefits of avoiding animal products in favor of plant foods include the following:
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce cancer risk
- Improving the health and digestion of the intestinal microbiome
- Increased bowel regularity
- Improve weight management and support weight loss
- Cholesterol lowering
- Lowering blood pressure and the risk of hypertension
- Improve blood sugar control
- Reducing the intake of saturated fats
Disadvantages of plant-based meat
Most plant-based meats use a vegan or vegetarian source of protein so that consumers still get the protein benefits that would normally be associated with real meat. However, total proteins may be even less in plant-based meats and they usually contain more carbohydrates compared to animal meat. Furthermore, plant-based meats do not naturally contain vitamin B12, a nutrient critical to energy production. Many vegan meats are rich in vitamin B12, but this is something to consider when assessing your nutrient needs. Iron and zinc are also usually lower, though some of the best plant-based meats are also fortified with these essential nutrients.
Finally, some plant-based meats are rich in sodium, which is usually the main point argued by those who think plant-based meats are unhealthy. For example, a 2019 Australian study that audited plant-based meats, including 50 hamburgers, 10 minced products, 29 sausages, 24 chicken products, 9 seafood and 15 other meat substitutes, reported that only 4% of products were low in sodium (58–1200 mg / 100 g). However, it is important to keep in mind that most comparable animal meat products will also contain a similar level of sodium.
Are plant-based meats healthy?
So, given the pros and cons, are plant-based gums healthy? There is no clear answer because there are so many different types of plant-based meats and formulations used to make them. Some contain very few ingredients and are minimally processed. They use organic soy with other vegetables and are rich in quality protein and contain some fiber. Vegan meats made from peas and other legumes are also high in protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and antioxidants.
However, plant-based meats that are high in salt or that contain sticky and sweet sauces and spices may contain unhealthy levels of sodium, sugar, and processed fats and oils, much like their processed meat counterparts.
Choosing healthy plant-based meat
Reading the ingredients label and nutrition facts will help you inform your consumption of plant-based meats. The recommended daily limit of sodium is 2,300 mg, so look for plant-based meats that do not provide more than 20% of the sodium intake per serving. Also, look for low saturated fat and a short list of ingredients with real nutrients like organic soy, peas, vital wheat gluten (if you do not have celiac disease), seeds and vegetables. Fiber, protein and vitamin B12 should be high, if possible. For example, aim for at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving, 9 or more grams of protein, and 20% DV of vitamin B12 if you are not already taking a supplement. Avoid added sugars, hydrogenated oils and artificial ingredients if possible.
Plant-based meat alternatives
After all, plant-based meats are considered processed foods, so while they may be part of a healthier diet if you choose the more nutritious and less processed options and enjoy them in moderation, choosing full sources, natural vegan protein would be a healthier option. Organic lentils, tofu and tempeh, not GMOs, beans, peas, vegetables, nuts and seeds will provide the highest quality proteins without additives like sodium and preservatives.