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Switching to plant-based meat? Check out its nutritional pros and cons for your diet

Feb 09, 2023 11:07 AM IST

Check out the nutritional pros and cons of plant-based meat alternatives, which will help you determine if they are a healthy addition to your diet.

Plant-based meat alternatives, also known as meat analogs or meat substitutes, are products designed to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of meat, but made entirely from plant-based ingredients. These products have gained popularity in recent years due to increased concern for animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and personal health. However, the nutritional benefits and drawbacks of plant-based meat alternatives are a subject of debate. In this article, we will examine the nutritional pros and cons of plant-based meat alternatives, and help you determine if they are a healthy addition to your diet. (Also read: All about what is plant-based diet, why it's better for your health, environment )

Switching to plant-based meat? Check out its nutritional pros and cons (Unsplash)

Talking to HT Lifestyle, Dr. Saloni Jhaveri, in-house nutritionist, Conscious Food, suggested the nutritional pros and cons of plant-based meal alternatives.

What is plant-based meat?

Plant-based meat is a vegetarian alternative to commercially farmed beef and livestock. These products were developed to overcome the carbon footprint and the climate impact as a result of the methane build-up from bulk-farmed meats. Plants are processed to remove natural ingredients such as carbohydrates, some fibre, some vitamins and minerals, monounsaturated fats and polyphenols; and only the protein is then combined with up to 27 ingredients to create a ‘plant-based meat’.

How did plant-based meat come into being?

The creation of the product is an attempt to reduce the consumption of meat by daily meat eaters and therefore the climate impact of farm-bred livestock. The focus was to make the ‘plant meat’ taste as close to animal-sourced meat as possible and some of the products even mimic the texture of meat including rare steaks.

Nutritional pros and cons of plant-based meat alternatives:

Clinical studies have shown that study participants who swapped 2 or more servings per day of animal meat for plant-based meat for 8 weeks had lower levels of TMAO (Trimethylamine N-oxide – a risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases) and lower LDL cholesterol. Studies also showed that fibre consumption was higher and saturated fat consumption was lower when eating plant-based meat instead of animal-based meat.

However, more studies need to be done to validate whether these benefits would last long-term for plant-based meat eaters. This is because plant meat alternatives which are highly processed contain up to 6 times more sodium than animal meat on average, and they may contain added sugars, artificial colouring and additives such as carrageenan and methylcellulose, in addition to refined oils and other bulking agents.

Plant-based meats also do not provide calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12. So, in this case, what can be said is that a judicious mix of plant and animal-based meat will be better in the long run for climate change because it will reduce animal farming. It can perhaps benefit the health of the meat consumer and certainly, it is better for the welfare of animals.

In the case of vegetarians and vegans who do not consume animal meats, the addition of plant-based meats is simply adding processed food to their diets. Anything processed is not as healthy for the gut and generally for us, as natural foods. So, in this case, plant-based meat may be consumed occasionally for a change in taste and diet, but certainly not for health reasons. Vegetarians and vegans can get their proteins from soya, nuts, legumes, and beans – all rich sources of plant proteins.

There is also a growing awareness that bulk farming is not sustainable in the long run and while alternatives such as plant-based meats were developed as potential solutions – they are unable to provide a holistic solution to address both health and climate change issues. The jury is still out in regards to the consumption of meat, but there is no doubt that if you have to consume meat, avoid bulk-farmed meats and instead opt for free-range chicken, organic pasture-fed beef and naturally caught fish.

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