When following a vegetarian or vegan life style and nutrition, alternative forms of meat, from legumes, mushrooms, soy etc. will inevitably be part of your diet, especially in the beginning. But even for those who consume meat, it sounds intriguing to eat something that tastes like burger, meatball and sausage or seems like it, but it’s made of plant protein, especially since these alternative meats can be found easily in any supermarket. This is something quite encouraging for the vegan community, as more and more people become familiar with plant-based choices. There are certain things, though, we need to be aware of.
First of all, it’s crucial to say that avoiding red meat is nothing but beneficial for our health, the environment and the animals. Eating red meat is proven to mess with our gut microbiome with its saturated fat and lead to cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. On the other hand, a plant-based diet is scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes type 2, some types of cancer and obesity. Plus, it ensures gut microbiome balance which leads to better health and strong immune system. This is why plant-based diet is supported by more and more doctors and health professionals worldwide.
So, should these plant-based meats be a part of a vegan diet? The answer is not that simple, as there are some things we need to consider.
They make the transition easier: Especially for those who actually enjoyed meat before but decided to avoid it for health and/or ethical reasons, these alternatives make their life easier, even socially. Plus, they urge non-vegetarians to eat less actual meat by trying out these alternatives and this can make a huge difference in the environment and the animals, as non-vegans and non-vegetarians are the biggest percentage of the “pie”.
They are an extra source of protein: Although protein adequacy in a vegan diet was never a problem as long as there’s an adequacy in calories, plant-based meat is an extra choice of condensed and bioavailable protein for those who may need it more, like athletes or the elderly.
They are better for the environment than actual meat: We are all well aware by now that livestock generates 14,5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, creating a huge carbon footprint with a very high global warming potential. On the other hand, plant-based meat is produced in a less harmful way for the environment, with less emissions and water requirements.
They are healthier than red meat: Apart from the fact that they don’t contain hormones and antibiotics like animal products, plant-based meat don’t form heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are canrcinogenic chemicals produced when muscle meat is cooked in high-temperatures. Plus, they are lower in endotoxins in relation to meat, which are linked to chronic inflammation and many diseases, and the risk of food poisoning from bacteria is minimized.
They are heavily processed products: Plant-based meats have undergone processing and contain additives, sugar, oils, salt, with probable high calorie content. They may contain saturated fat and even trans fat, so you need to be very careful, reading the labels and picking the ones less processed, with less sodium and sugar, preferring those fortified with B12, zinc or other nutrients. Whatever the case, always remember that they may be superior to red meat, but they are inferior to whole plant-based foods, despite their content in fibre and the absence of cholesterol. Try making your own plant-based meats at home, using quinoa, lentils, beans, mushrooms etc.
They are pricey: At the moment, plant-based meats are definitely more expensive than regular meat, but we should wait and see what happens in the future when their demand increases.
They may induce allergies: Label-checking is absolutely crucial especially by those that suffer from gluten sensitivity, celiac disease or are allergic to nuts, soy etc.
Bottom line is that you should try it, especially in the transition phase or if you are a meat eater and want to avoid meat, but you shouldn’t depend on it too often, especially if you have high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, because of their high sodium and fat content.
Soon there’ll be recipes on making your own, homemade, plant-based meat in the blog section of www.feedyourimmunity.com.