vegan is far behind us, but it’s never too late to explore a vegan diet. It’s easier than ever, in fact, thanks to the many vegan meat alternatives available today. From Impossible And Beyond meat from burgers to Gardein Chick’n and Tofurky, plant-based meat is everywhere.
It’s not just at the grocery store either. With more and more plants meal delivery services and vegan options in restaurants and fast food joints, going vegan is getting less difficult day by day.
All that said, there’s a big question about vegan meat that a lot of people are asking. just beginning ask: is it healthy?
What are plant-based meats made of?
This of course depends on the meat alternative. Some plant-based meat options are nutrient-dense and consist mostly of minimally processed whole foods. But many of the most popular options on the market – and especially those that look and taste real meat – are not so good for you.
Typically, vegan meat consists mostly of ingredients, including:
- Vegetables like peas or broccoli
- Fruits like jackfruit
This all sounds good, right? So why are we having a conversation about unhealthy plant-based meat? It all depends on what happens to those basic ingredients.
To make foods look and taste like meat, food manufacturers add filler ingredients such as wheat gluten, lots of salt, and artificial colors. In other words, when you choose a meat alternative that looks a hell of a lot like real meat, it’s probably because that “meat” has been heavily processed.
That’s not to say that all vegan meat options are as unhealthy as processed meat. But yes, this vegan hot dog is probably as unhealthy as a regular hot dog.
Plant-based meat can certainly contribute greatly to lessen the burden on the environment, support animal welfare And save you money. But if you’re making the switch for health reasons, be conscientious about which meat alternative you choose.
Vegan Meat Health Issues
Let’s review some of the biggest risks associated with unhealthy plant-based meat.
As we’ve already mentioned, taking something that isn’t meat and making it taste and look like real meat requires a bit of processing. Foods are more processed if they contain artificial ingredients or “natural flavors”. In meat alternatives in particular, ingredients such as soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate and textured vegetable protein are processed ingredients.
This is bad news because ultra-processed foods increase your risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Reduced life expectancy
Missing key nutrients
Beef, pork, and poultry all give your body complete protein, which means they contain the nine amino acids you need but can’t make yourself.
Much plant-based meat comes from ingredients that aren’t complete proteins on their own, like legumes and vegetables. If you’re going vegan, figure out what nutrients it’s missing so you can supplement them. You should also be aware of plant-based whole protein options, such as quinoa, tofu, and tempeh.
Most adults should consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh, and more if you’re active. The US Department of Agriculture has a handy calculator to determine how much you should receive.
Some vegan meats contain less protein than real meat, although this has improved in recent years. Ultimately, to maintain a healthy, whole-food diet, you’ll probably want to supplement with protein-rich vegan foods like legumes and nuts.
High in sodium and saturated fat
One of the biggest problems with plant-based meat comes from its sodium content. Like processed animal meat, most vegan meats contain a healthy dose of salt. Most of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods. Read the label and specifically check the sodium level before assuming a meat alternative is a healthy swap.
This is especially true if you have high blood pressure or other heart health issues.
Meat alternatives also commonly contain saturated fat due to the types of oils used, especially coconut oil. Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that can increase the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.
At the end of the line
Many highly processed vegan meat alternatives are not good for you. However, not all meat substitutes are unhealthy. If you know how to read labels and choose healthier plant-based meat options, you can find vegan meat made with organic ingredients from whole foods that are low in sodium and high in fiber and iron.
A plant-based diet can be incredibly healthy – more cheaper and more environmentally and animal friendly – as long as you stick to whole foods. Fill your kitchen with the right tools preparing nutritious meals with minimally processed ingredients can help you feel better. Homemade vegan meat made from vegetables and legumes is ideal, but tofu, tempeh, and seitan are less-processed, high-protein meat alternatives.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.