is far behind us, but it’s never too late to explore . In fact, it’s easier than ever thanks to the many vegan meat alternatives available today. from and burgers to Gardein Chick’n and Tofurky, plant-based meats are pretty much everywhere.
It’s not just at the grocery store. Increasingly plant-basedand vegan options at diners and fast food restaurants, going vegan is getting harder every day.
All that said, there is one big question about vegan meat that many people askto 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 primarily of minimally processed whole foods. But many of the most popular options on the market – and especially those that look and taste good— are not so good for you.
In general, vegan meat consists primarily of ingredients including:
- Vegetables like peas or broccoli
- Fruits like jackfruit
That all sounds good, right? So why are we having a conversation about unhealthy plant-based meat? It all depends on what happens to these basic ingredients.
To make things look and taste like meat, food manufacturers add ingredients like wheat gluten, lots of salt, and artificial colors. In other words, when you choose a meat alternative that looks quite similar to real meat, it’s probably because that “meat” has been heavily processed.
This is not to say that all vegan meat options are just as bad for your health as processed meat. But yes, this vegan hot dog is probably just as unhealthy as a regular hot dog.
Plant-based meat can certainly go a long way toward mitigating the burden on the environment,and . But if you’re making the switch for health reasons, be conscientious about which meat alternative you choose.
Vegan meat health concerns
Let’s look at some of the biggest risks associated with unhealthy plant-based meats.
As mentioned before, taking something that isn’t meat and making it taste and look like real meat takes a lot of processing. Foods are more processed if they contain artificial ingredients or “natural flavors.” In meat substitutes 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
Key nutrients are missing
Beef, pork, and poultry give your body a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine amino acids you need but can’t make on your own.
Much plant-based meat comes from ingredients that are not complete proteins themselves, such as legumes and vegetables. If you’re choosing vegan meat, find out which nutrients it’s missing so you can supplement. You should also know about complete plant-based protein options, such as quinoa, tofu, and tempeh.
Most adults should get 0.8 grams of protein for every pound you weigh, plus more if you’re active. The USDA has a handy calculator to figure out how much you should be getting.
Some vegan meats contain less protein than real meat, although this has improved in recent years. Ultimately, to maintain a well-rounded, healthy diet, you’ll probably want to supplement with high-protein 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. Just like processed animal meats, most vegan meats are high in salt. Most of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods. Read the label and specifically check the sodium level before assuming that the meat alternative is a healthy replacement.
This is especially true if you have high blood pressure or other heart problems.
Meat alternatives also often contain saturated fat due toused, specifically coconut oil. Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that can increase the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.
Many vegan meat alternatives that are highly processed 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’ll be able to find vegan meats made with organic, whole-food ingredients that are lower in sodium and higher in of fiber and iron.
A plant-based diet can be— plus cheaper and kinder to the environment and animals — as long as you stick to whole foods. Stocking your kitchen with preparing nutritious meals with minimally processed ingredients can help you feel your best. Homemade vegan meat made from vegetables and legumes is ideal, but tofu, tempeh and seitan are less processed, high-protein meat alternatives.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.