The Truth About Vegan Meat

It looks like meat, taste like meat, bleeds like meat...but is it meat?

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Welcome to the era of meat analogues or faux meat. Startups companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat (vegan patty available in SaladStop!) have been making waves in restaurants and supermarkets worldwide with their selection of vegan meats which come scarily close to the experience of eating actual meat; from the smell, taste, texture, and even to the way it ‘bleeds’.

But how healthy are these products exactly? Plant-based…yes, you could say that. Actual plants? Not really. Don’t expect to be getting your daily serving of vegetables here. Most vegan meats are actually made with a protein isolate derived from plants such as wheat, soy or peas.

But before we jump to any conclusions, let’s first assess the vegan burger patties from Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat to see how they compare to a regular ground beef burger from a nutritional and environmental standpoint.

Pros

Similar protein content to meat

If anything, this is where the vegan patties win it for us. Coming in at a commendable 20 to 21 grams of protein per patty, these vegan burgers stack up pretty well against a regular ground beef burger with only 15 to 19 grams of protein.

More iron

A vegan diet is typically associated with a lower intake of iron due to the lack of animal proteins, and requires supplementation for proper immune functioning. Both brands contain more iron than a regular beef burger – beating out their meat competitors.

Zero ‘bad’ cholesterol

Perfect for the health conscious who love a juicy burger patty, but without the potential health risks that come with it. Any animal product will have ‘bad’ cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and anything that grows from the ground has zero bad cholesterol.

Less carcinogenic

The World Health Organisation has classified red meat as probably carcinogenic (due to limited evidence), and processed meat (‘meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation’) as carcinogenic. What does ‘probably’ actually mean? Might be better to stick to the vegan patty here.

Free from antibiotics and hormones

Unless you farm your own animals, you can never really tell if you are eating meat from industrially produced animals which have been pumped and injected with antibiotics and hormones. These can wreak havoc on our gut and cause hormonal imbalances.

Cons

Lack of nutrients

Although these brands might claim that their products are plant-based, the process required to isolate the protein from the plant removes vital components and nutrients (vitamins, fibre, minerals and phytochemicals.) that make said plants nutrient-dense.

High sodium

The sodium levels in vegan meat do tend to be higher than hamburger meat for shelf-life preservation, and, to compensate for a lack of flavour. However, this also depends on how heavy handed you are with the seasoning of your meat patties.

High in Saturated Fat

Total fat and saturated fat for both brands are high due to the refined coconut oil and canola oil that is used to mimic animal fat, giving us the mouth watering experience of a juicy burger. However, it’s not too much different from a conventional ground beef burger, depending on how lean it is.

Genetically engineered and highly processed 

It’s highly controversial as to whether the chemical process of isolating plant proteins and genetically engineering yeast to make heme (an iron containing molecule which Impossible Burger uses to mimic blood in meat) is ethically and nutritionally sound. There are also various additives that are added which include yeast extract, gum, canola oil, potato starch and the like, but which are generally considered safe by U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards.

Nonetheless, the same can be said for burgers or meats patties from fast-food chains or restaurants. Unless you are making a meat patty from scratch yourself, can you ever really tell how it’s been made or what’s gone into it?

Vegan meat is sustainable?

It’s an irrefutable fact that livestock farming is a resource intensive industry – depleting the world of land, water, grain, animals, whilst also being a huge contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have developed their products in hopes to mitigate this negative impact, providing meat-loving consumers with sustainable alternatives.

A study found that the Beyond Burger generates ‘90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef’.

Similarly, Impossible Burger has stated that they use 95% less land, 74% less water, and create 87% less in greenhouse-gas emissions, than a beef burger of equal size.

However, when compared to a plant-based diet or an actual burger patty made from whole vegetables, the carbon footprint of these vegan meats is still higher due to the additional energy inputs required during the production process.

What’s the right choice?

These vegan meats do seem to fare better nutritionally, compared to meat. Ideally, this makes it a perfect solution for those who want to reduce their meat intake or transition to a plant-based diet for health reasons, but find it difficult to give up meat products. Likewise, vegan meat might be a viable option for those to whom the environment and animal welfare is a main concern.

Veggie and plant-food lovers might also find that vegan meats could prove useful in social situations. For instance, eating out in restaurants which have limited vegan food options, or at barbeques or grills where everyone is tucking into a juicy beef burger and you don’t want to feel like an ‘alien’ with your plate of greens.

However, if your priority is eating healthy and minimally processed foods – and you don’t necessarily crave meat – your best bet is to stick with the ingredients you know and love so well.

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