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An increasing number of people in America and around the world are transitioning to plant-based diets, such as vegetarianism or veganism, for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. To make this transition easier, brands like BeyondMeat, Impossible Foods, and MorningStar Farms manufacture foods that mimic the taste and texture of meat, chicken, and fish using plants. These are referred to as imitation plant-based meats. While some people might consider imitation meat a more ethical and environmental option, are they healthier than traditional animal meat?
The most common ingredients in plant-based imitation meat include soy, tofu, pea protein, coconut oil, seitan, beans, lentils, and potato starch. Imitation meat, poultry, and fish tends to have lower amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are associated with conditions like Type 2 diabetes mellitus and heart disease. For example, a 4 oz patty of ground beef has 12 g of saturated fat and 95 mg of cholesterol whereas a plant-based burger of the same weight has 5 g and 0 mg respectively. Both meat and imitation meat have a comparable amount of protein and calories. Imitation meat also has a higher percentage of daily fiber (15% vs 0% in beef), which supports gut health.
On the other hand, imitation meat tends to have higher sodium levels, which is associated with high blood pressure. With the variety of imitation meats in the market, there is also variation in the levels of nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12 since they need to be fortified. Because each company fortifies imitation meat differently, the nutritional content can vary. Additionally, plant-based burgers usually contain phytic acid, a natural substance found in plant seeds that impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium and may promote mineral deficiencies.
If your motivation for adopting a plant-based diet is health, consider opting for more nutrient-dense and less processed foods such as beans, legumes, grains, nuts, and whole vegetables instead. Jackfruit and tofu are also healthy options. Make sure to take a look at the product Nutrition Facts and see which product aligns with your needs. For example, if you have high blood pressure, you may consider consuming imitation meat in moderation or looking for a product with less sodium. Consult your doctor or nutritionist for personalized dietary recommendations!