How Healthful Are Meat Substitutes?

meat substitutes

There are numerous reasons to reduce or halt your consumption of meat. Whether you’re concerned about unhygienic practices in the industry, your consumption of saturated fats, overuse of antibiotics, or the health of the environment, you may choose to go meatless.

Of course, you still want to get adequate protein. And, some people simply enjoy the taste of meat so much, that they’re loathed to give it up. To solve the problem, food manufacturers have long tried to create imitation meat. But lately, the demand for meat substitutes seems to have reached critical mass. What was once a niche food is now mainstream. With the explosion onto the scene of products like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, and even poultry giant Tyson getting in on the game, things are changing.

With so many new options–many reported to look and taste identical to animal flesh–the time is right for a guilt-free burger. You may wonder, though, if these items are healthful. Even if health isn’t your main reason for eschewing animal products, you clearly care about your health, or you wouldn’t be here! So let’s take a bite of some meat substitutes, shall we?

Health Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

A study published in the journal Nutrients in December 2018 reported that, while there aren’t any real advantages to plant-based protein when compared to animal protein, there also aren’t many disadvantages. So if you can get your protein from plant-based sources and avoid saturated fat, cholesterol, and other potential issues, you’re off to a good start. Plant-based proteins also have higher levels of phytonutrients than animal-based proteins.

Disadvantages of Plant-Based Protein

Just like everything in life, there are downsides to turning entirely to plant-based proteins.

Not Complete Sources of Protein

One drawback is that they aren’t complete sources of protein. Many animal-based proteins are complete sources of proteins, whereas only quinoa and buckwheat are complete proteins. Because the body stores proteins differently than carbs and fats, it’s essential you’re giving your body complete sources of proteins.

Lots of Additives

Lots of meat substitute products contain additives. Some of the additives include artificial flavors, colorings, gums, sugars, and preservatives. All of those are negatives when you’re looking for a healthier option for your family. Many meatless options are also high in sodium, so read the labels.

May Contain Common Allergens

Some meat substitutes contain common food allergens, like soy, peanuts, wheat, and dairy. So again, read those labels.

Companies Entering the Meat Substitute Game

Companies are noticing the growing number of people turning to meat substitutes and are now including meatless options on their menus or buying options in the grocery store.

Tyson Foods

In June 2019, Tyson, the largest meat producer in the U.S., announced that they’ve started an alternative protein section of their company. They will produce plant-based nuggets, burgers, sausage, and meatballs. A separate line of products will combine their signature chicken with plant-based ingredients. The company says that several major retailers have expressed interest in carrying the products.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Currently, KFC is developing fake chicken options and plan on first testing the product in the United Kingdom and Ireland. If all goes well there, KFC is looking for ways to introduce the product in the US.

Chipotle and Qdoba

The two build-your-own-dinner restaurants, known for their burritos and burrito bowls, both offer plant-based “meat” options. Chipotle calls their faux beef sofritas. It’s actually marinated tofu shaped and chopped to resemble ground beef. Qdoba is testing Impossible Meat (more on that product below.)

Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger

These two represent the previously unrealized (i.e., “impossible”) aspiration of food makers to create something that looks, feels, tastes, and even bleeds like beef. Beyond Burger, a part of the Beyond Meat company, has already won over investors, the likes of which include Bill Gates. TGI Fridays have the products on their menu, and many grocery stores carry them.

Impossible Foods has a variety of foods available, ranging from the Impossible Burger to breakfast sandwiches. In addition to Qdoba, White Castle and other restaurants have started using the Impossible brand in their menu.

Just like anything in life, there are pros and cons to consider when introducing meat substitutes to your family. If you decide on meat substitutes, be sure to look at the food labels to see if you’re truly making a healthy decision. And keep watching for new products as this food category grows in popularity.


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