Are vegetarian substitutes actually healthier than real meat?


B.he environmental experts around the world now agree that the meat industry is contributing to the climate crisis. Industrial meat is one of the biggest causes of deforestation worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Find that over the past 25 years, forests have been cleared for cattle breeding in an area the size of India. In the UK, an analysis by Green Peace shows that we need to reduce meat consumption by at least 70 percent if we are to avoid climate collapse by 2030.

There is a growing awareness of the problems associated with large-scale meat consumption. The results of a poll by the Vegan Society, published in May, found that one in five people had eaten less meat in the past 12 months. Of those who reduced their meat consumption, 35 percent said they were motivated by health concerns, while 30 percent said the environment was their main motivator. In addition, one in four said they had reduced their meat consumption due to animal rights issues.

Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why it has become so much easier to remove meat from our diet is the rise in meat substitutes, which are becoming increasingly easy to find in both supermarkets and restaurants. Let’s not forget the national excitement when Greggs announced the launch of its vegan sausage bun or the launch of the popular U.S. Beyond Meat in UK supermarkets earlier this year.


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Quorn chicken fillets with vegetables

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

While some meat substitute manufacturers like Linda McCartney and The Unbelievable Alt market their products by advocating for their positive impact on the environment, other large retailers like Quorn and Beyond Meat also use health claims in their marketing. Quorn says its products are “packed with delicious, nutritious protein” and that health is “the focus”. Beyond Meat claims their burgers are “an excellent source of protein and 35 percent less total and saturated fat” than a regular burger.

While the environmental benefit of swapping out your Sunday roast for a Quorn chicken fillet is a breeze, questions remain as to whether the meat substitutes we love are actually healthier than consuming real meat.

Most experts agree that meat substitutes can be a nutritious alternative, but it depends on what they’re made from. Dr. Stacey Lockyer, a senior nutritionist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says those who list vegetables, legumes, mycoprotein, and soy tend to have less saturated fat and calories and more fiber than meat, but “fat and salt are often added “. to create a meat-like taste, texture or appearance “. This means that some are higher in saturated fat or salt than real meat.

When you switch from a cut of meat to a meat alternative, you go from being a whole food to an ultra-processed food

Eva Humphries, nutritionist

On its website, Quorn says that its mycoprotein – the main ingredient in most of its products – is made from a naturally occurring fungus through a fermentation process, similar to how beer and yogurt are made. Then “we mix nutrients from wheat and corn with air and essential minerals … Next, we add a small amount of protein (or potato extract in our vegan products) and shape it into a shape.”

Mycoprotein makes up 86 percent of the ingredients in the meatless fillets. Others are egg white, yeast extract, salt, a firming agent, onion powder, sage, and sugar. All in all, a 69g fillet contains just 60 calories, 1g fat, 6g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 9g protein and 190mg salt.

Although an organic Class A chicken breast of the same weight has a fraction more calories (about 67), it also has 7 g more protein (16 g) and less than half the amount of salt (80 mg). And while the amount of carbohydrates and fiber in the meatless fillets of Quron is small, it is hardly negligible in chicken breasts (0.5 g each).

Like many of the brands that offer vegetarian meat substitutes, London-based retailer The Vegetarian Butcher uses a protein made from soy as its main ingredient. Soy protein makes up 88 percent of its What The Cluck chicken cuts, with spices, sunflower oil, and flavors making up the rest.

Beyond burger burger patties and ground beef

(Getty Images)

The company said The independent one it also adds colorings and starches to help the product hold its shape, as well as vitamins and minerals like B12 and iron. In comparison, 69g “What The Cluck” chicken pieces have 97 calories, at least 30 calories more than Quorn fillets and chicken breasts. While the vegetarian butcher’s chicken cuts contain just a touch less salt than chicken (76 mg), they have 14.6 g of protein – more than both Quorn fillets and chicken.

An inherent problem with meat alternatives, explains nutritionist Eva Humphries, is that “when you move from a piece of meat to a meat alternative, you switch from a whole food to an ultra-processed food”. While she emphasizes that not all processed foods are bad – even a can of chickpeas is technically classified as processed because the chickpeas were previously cooked – ultra-processed foods like meat alternatives can be lacking in nutrients.

“Soy is a really good example,” she explains. “We take the soybean, and since we only need the protein from it, it goes through a really lengthy chemical process, so we end up with an isolated soy protein. By then, we’ll have removed all of the other good properties of the soybean. Then, to make this protein a meat alternative, we need to add other ingredients and process it further. The end product is far from what this food was originally. “

Of course, the processing of a product varies from one meat alternative to the next, as does the number of additives and preservatives that are used to make the product taste like real meat and to make it durable. While Quorn is a processed food by definition, the company denies that it is “ultra-processed”. “We don’t know the label” ultra-processed “- our protein is grown from a natural, nutritious mushroom using the age-old fermentation method and then steamed, chilled and frozen to make Quorn products,” says a spokesman The independent one.

From a nutritional point of view, we still have to do a lot more to make meat alternatives on par with real meat

Eva Humphries, nutritionist

The vegetarian butcher told the story The independent one that its mission is to “make the switch to plant-based foods as easy and tasty as possible”. It said it “continuously innovates” the taste, texture and nutritional value of its products.

Another popular meat substitute is the vegetable ground meat from Beyond Meat, the main ingredient of which is water, followed by pea protein. Like The Vegetarian Butcher, Beyond Meat also adds starch and flavors, as well as beetroot for color. 69 g of organic 15 percent fat Tesco beef contains around 180 calories and 13 g of protein. There is practically no salt, no carbohydrates and 10 g of fat. 69 g of Beyond Meat minced meat contain slightly fewer calories (164) and a little more fat (11 g). There is also less protein (10g), but more carbohydrates (3g).

Despite the large number of people switching to a plant-based diet for health reasons, Humphries warns that alternatives also lack nutrients that are more readily available in meat. “From a nutritional point of view, we have to do a lot more to produce meat alternatives on a par with real meat. But I’m definitely talking about high quality meat sources, and I wouldn’t say the need to eat meat every day, ”she says.

“Some meats are good sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals in your diet, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, but we should try to diversify our protein intake balance and shift to more plant-based sources of protein, including a higher diet of beans and other legumes (e.g. lentils), nuts and seeds, ”adds Lockyer.

Grilled chicken breast with coriander and lime

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Finding meat alternatives that list legumes as one of their main ingredients is one way to ensure you are getting as many nutrients as real meat. “As a population, we have to consume less meat on average [but] We need to make sure that highly processed meat alternatives don’t necessarily have a health stamp as they are often higher in salt content, and make sure we’re getting a variety of vegetable sources of protein to make sure we’re getting the full range of essential amino acids that we need, ”says Jenny Rosborough, a registered nutritionist.

“Once you combine grains and legumes, you have a very good amino acid profile that matches the protein profile of meat,” adds Cristiano Percoco, a clinical nutrition therapist. But even then, he agrees with Humphries that “whole foods will always be the best option.” “I wouldn’t eat too many meat alternatives, they should be used in moderation, for example once a week for a treat,” he says.

While some experts believe that most meat alternatives on the market are too processed to be considered healthier than real meat, most agree that they are a great way to reduce our overall meat consumption. If you’re looking for a healthy meat alternative, look for options that include a variety of protein-rich legumes and have as little salt as possible.

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