Are plant-based meat substitutes really healthier than meat?

Over the past few years you’ve probably seen an explosion of meat alternatives on the market, from burgers to “chicken” strips, sausages, etc., there are more plant-based meat alternatives. than ever before. Compared to meat products, these alternatives often contain nearly identical amounts of protein and contain essential nutrients, such as iron and B vitamins. Although these alternatives add variety and nutrients to a meat-based diet plants, if you are willing to eat meat, it may be a better source of nutrition.

Plant-based meat substitutes are considered “processed” foods

plant-based science

Although some plant-based meat substitutes contain essential nutrients not found in animal meat, such as fiber, these products generally contain more ingredients than their animal counterparts and are considered processed foods.

For example, you may see ingredients like methylcellulose and carrageenan in these foods. These ingredients are not associated with intake limits and can therefore be consumed as part of a healthy diet. However, due to the conflicting research results associated with these ingredients and their controversial nature, it may be best to limit them as much as possible.

Additionally, many alternatives are made from soy, an ingredient that some may be allergic to, and also contain gluten, another common allergen.

Plant-based or animal-based nutrients

An additional concern to consider with alternative meats is the bioavailability of their nutrients. Although these products contain many of the same vitamins and minerals found in animal meat, because they are plant-based, they are not absorbed and used in the body at the same rate as equal amounts of plant-based nutrients. animal.

For example, while we can absorb 25-30% of the animal iron we eat, we only absorb 1-10% of plant-based iron. Similarly, zinc from plant sources is also less bioavailable than animal sources.

These plant-based meat substitutes provide a source of essential nutrients for those who prefer not to eat meat; however, compared to animal meat, a lower percentage of nutrients are actually absorbed and utilized by the body.

There’s at least one thing plant-based meats have that animal meat is low in sodium: sodium. You will find higher amounts of sodium in meat alternatives than in animal meat. For example, one patty from Meatless Farm Plant-Based Burger contains 540 milligrams of sodium, equivalent to 23% of the recommended daily intake, while one frozen beef patty from BUBBA Burger contains 85 milligrams of sodium.

RELATED: The 12 Best Healthy Plant-Based Foods in 2022

Should You Eat Plant-Based Meat Substitutes?

The availability of meat substitutes is beneficial to consumers as it provides important nutrients to those who may have more limited food options due to dietary preferences, such as following a vegan diet. While this population may benefit from the availability of these options, someone who is open to consuming animal products may be better off sticking to these products more often than swapping them out for plant-based alternatives.

A well-balanced diet that contains animal and plant foods, and also centers on minimally processed options, can provide a wide variety of essential nutrients with a minimum of questionable ingredients.

Although plant-based alternatives can be a source of nutrition in your balanced diet, they should not be considered superior to meat-based options.