A wide held belief, or controversy, is that a plant-based diet is better for human health, and for the planet overall. Animals, specifically cows, consumes more resources than the amount of meat it produces, making it one of the least efficient animals to eat. In one study, it was found that, “beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions.” The other food sources are chicken, pork, dairy and eggs. In the same study, it was found that, “on a calorie-to-calorie basis, potatoes, wheat and rice require two to six time less resources to produce than pork, chicken, eggs or dairy.”
So, efforts have been made to rectify this inefficiency with plant-based alternatives. Plants provide a “cleaner” source of nutrients than those from animals. For those used to consuming high amounts of meat, the mere thought of this change in food source is tantamount to a travesty. But as everyone who has experienced change knows – change is good, but slow.
Plant Based Meat Products
Many new companies have entered the fake-meats industry with the sole aim of making the planet better through reduced consumption of meat. A noble cause, for sure. These companies, with years of research behind them and the potential to disrupt a multi-billion dollar industry, have also fared very well through IPOs in the past few months. They each have unique products for burgers, the quintessential fast food staple. These are Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat, and as of this writing, Awesome Burger by Sweet Earth (a Nestle company). These strive to make meat-looking products with plant-based ingredients. Their plant-based imitation mimics their meaty originals so closely that people can’t distinguish the fake from the originals, in initial test results. But it is not as simple as replacing animal muscle with leaves and twigs in the burgers. The various plant sources are processed, chemicals and preservatives added, and in some cases, includes genetically modified ingredients.
Impossible Foods creates its own heme, the iron-containing compound in hemoglobin that enables blood to carry oxygen. From Impossible Foods website, on how they make heme – “We started by using the heme-containing protein from the roots of soy plants. It’s called soy leghemoglobin. We took the DNA from soy plants and inserted it into a genetically engineered yeast.” The resulting ingredient gives their burgers the blood-oozing effect and meaty taste when bitten into, similar to a regular cheese burger. On the other hand, Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger uses beets to give its characteristic red color to mimic the bleeding effect of burgers.
Other ingredients include coconut and canola oil for fats, soy, pea, and gluten for protein, with other additives to mimic the taste and texture of meat, and preservatives for shelf life.
For the nutritional information, the comparison below as provided by Healthline –
|The Impossible Burger||Beef burger|
|Total Fat (gms)||14||13|
|Added Sugar (gms)||<1||0|
|Sodium (% DV)||16||1|
|Vitamin B12 (% DV)||130||48|
|Folate (% DV)||30||4|
|Thiamine (% DV)||2,350||4|
|Riboflavin (% DV)||30||12|
|Niacin (% DV)||35||32|
|Zinc (% DV)||50||48|
|Iron (% DV)||25||16|
|Selenium (% DV)||0||36|
The Impossible Burger provides less protein, almost the same amount of fat (14 vs 13 grams), and more fiber at 3 grams vs 0 to beef burger, and high sodium (16% of DV to 1% with the beef burger). Sodium in high quantities has been linked to blood pressure related issues. Individual vitamins and metals are slightly more in the Impossible Burger, except Selenium, which is nonexistent. So, there is no clear winner from a nutritional point of view.
On the whole, plant based products claim to be 100% no-meat substitute for something as traditional as a beef burger. The main question on anyone’s mind is, how much of this is processed food? The fake meats is directed towards a meat loving consumer, and presents a healthy alternative, with the hopes of changing his/ her lifestyle for the benefit of their self and that of the planet. While these products help in the transition to more plant-based products, continued consumption of highly processed and genetically modified foods raises questions on the long-term effects on the body. It is too early to say how good or bad the lab-grown plant heme is, and regulators are evaluating this currently. Anything in moderation is advisable.
People are slowly making healthier changes to their life styles, which is encouraging. It will take a couple of years to see if these meat substitutes are transitional on the way to a healthier lifestyle, or if it creates a separate industry, now it its infancy.
At Pedal My Way, we stress the importance of simple natural ingredients in what you eat. Lesser the ingredients, lesser chemicals and additives, the better it is to understand what you are consuming, and the healthier it is.
To your Healthy Living!