From your local grocery store to your favorite health-conscious cafe, you may have noticed the increased availability and popularity of plant-based meat alternatives. Even big-name burger chains are feeling the pressure to offer non-meat alternative menu items. More than just ‘fake meat’, these alternatives enable consumers to reduce their carbon footprint and consume more ethically while receiving key nutrients if they select the right products. While we encourage a plant-rich diet and are excited to see more and more people include plant-based products on their plates, we wanted to take a closer look at this trend and provide you with the insights to help you make healthy choices for your food and the environment.
Meat is Out and Plant-Based Is In
With brands such as Beyond Meat providing a range of plant-based alternatives to your regular meat-based hamburger patties and sausages, it’s far easier to plan and prepare a diet, sans meat, without feeling like you’re missing out on meal options.
According to a Forbes report, a market research firm, Euromonitor, "U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 15.4% each year between 2013 and 2018, outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period."
Some meat-replacement products aim to replicate the taste and texture of ‘the real deal’, satisfying customers who like meat but want a healthier or more ethical option. Some may be fooled when they take a bite of these food options as they may look, taste, and act like meat but they’re completely plant-based (so we can’t call them‘meat’).
Other meat-alternative products aim to provide the equivalent in nutrition, catering to the needs of vegans and vegetarians who don’t care for the tasting notes of a beef pattie.
Having many options on the shelves that cater to different desires means that we’re seeing a range of people consume more meat alternatives and less actual meat.
Soul Burger founder Amit Tewari, a doctor turned plant-based restaurateur, was quoted in an article for The Daily Telegraph sharing that the popularity of the plant-based products isn’t just with vegetarian and vegan consumers.
“The majority of our customers are not vegan, they’re not vegetarian, they tend to be what I term flexitarians, people who are not really committed to one way of eating, they’re just trying to eat a bit healthier... This really targets that group, gives you the satisfaction of what meat provides, an amazing taste, texture, and familiar experience, but it also is a plant-based alternative which kind of by default makes it a little bit healthier, in terms of the correlation to cancer and fats,” said Amit Twari.
Why We Love Meat Replacements
With more and more information coming to light that shows eating high amounts of meat is bad for both our health and the environment, having greater awareness and ease of access to plant-based alternatives makes the move away from meat much easier for more people.
A diet that is heavy in meat (we’re talking a large percentage of every main meal, every day), particularly red meat and processed meat, increases a person’s risk of death from heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.
Plus, the environmental cost to produce all the meat that modern society demands is the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions as all the cars, trucks, and automobiles on the road combined!
If you leave the steaks behind and choose a good plant-based alternative, it can be:
- better for your budget
- better for your health
- better for the environment
- better for the animals
What’s Not So Great About 'Fake Meat'
On the health front - It’s important to understand that processed products aren’t healthy just because they are plant-based as they often contain many other questionable ingredients. There are some plant-based meat alternative products on the market that contain the same amount of sodium and saturated fat as a standard beef pattie and coined the term ‘vegan junk food’.
If you think about what it takes to make something that isn’t meat taste and feel like real meat, there’s a lot of flavorings, chemicals, and binding agents required to make that happen.
If you’re selecting a meat alternative from the shelf, take a look at the ingredients label and avoid the following:
- Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ): a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. Lab tests on animals have found an association with TBHQ and cancer.
- Magnesium carbonate: used to retain color in foods, but is also used in flooring and fireproofing.
- Propylene glycol: an odorless, colorless liquid used as a moisturizer, the liquid in e-cigarettes, and in antifreeze.
- Ferric orthophosphate or iron phosphate: a chemical used to fortify foods as well as a pesticide for slugs and snails. Deemed safe in small quantities, it has been known to cause skin and eye irritations, as well as gastro issues.
- Erythrosine (Red #3): an artificial food coloring banned by the FDA for use in cosmetics in the 1990s when a link was found to cancer. It can still be used in food products like meat alternatives.
For Your Budget - for some store-bought, processed meat replacements, especially those that taste like ‘real meat’, you can pay a premium price.
There are cost-effective ways of making your own plant-based meat alternatives or finding brands that are more affordable, that provide better nutrients. What’s important is to be aware of what you consume and make better decisions for your health, and don’t beat yourself up if you just want to enjoy a tasty burger as a sometimes treat!
Home-Made Meat Alternative
Fast-food can be real food too and while a hearty fast-food burger is ok from time-to-time, you will love the satisfaction you get some creating your own at home. Plant-based burger patties are so easy to make and can be a flavor bomb on your burger. Not convinced? Try the recipe for our Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Spicy Cailflower Patties.