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Is a Meat Substitute Better for You Than Real Meat?

Is a Meat Substitute Better for You Than Real Meat?

Are you considering switching to a meat substitute but are unsure if it’s better for you than real meat? You’re not alone!

With more people reducing their intake of animal products, the need to understand what’s really beneficial and what’s just another marketing ploy is increasingly important.

Here, we’ll look at some pros and cons of opting for a meat-free diet. We specifically focus on if switching to a plant-based alternative is better for your health than eating real animal-sourced proteins, such as beef or chicken. Let’s get started!

What Is a Meat Substitute? 

Meat substitutes are an incredible innovation in today’s health-conscious society. The idea is simple: meat substitutes offer vegetarians, vegans, and others a way of enjoying their favorite meals without consuming animal products.

Examples include things like tempeh, tofu, and seitan. All have the same textures and flavors as traditional meats while using plant-based ingredients.

Furthermore, these meat substitutes provide similar nutritional benefits to their animal counterparts – high in protein, low in fat – so everyone can enjoy the same flavor experience.

What Are the Benefits of Plant-Based Meat Substitutes? 

Veggie burgers and other plant-based meat alternatives are growing more popular. They provide a healthier way to enjoy the flavors we love without overloading on animal-based products.

Not only are these foods lower in cholesterol than their animal counterparts, but they often have little to no saturated fat. This is beneficial for those watching their weight. Further benefits of these options might include zero trans fats and no antibiotics or hormones. Although the nutrition varies by type, many can be good sources of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

In addition to these attributes, choosing plant-based foods is an ethical decision that helps reduce humanity’s environmental footprint. Cutting down on livestock farming would decrease water pollution and greenhouse emissions while eliminating land degradation often caused by overgrazing with animal production.

What Are the Disadvantages of Plant-Based Meat Substitutes?

While plant-based meat substitutes provide people with a delicious, cruelty-free alternative to traditional meats, there are also some drawbacks. One of them is cost. Many of these meat substitutes are quite pricey.

Additionally, many vegan and vegetarian brands have preservatives and artificial flavoring, making them less healthy than their advertised nutritionally comparable label might lead you to believe.

Finally, those with specific food allergies may need to exercise caution when testing out plant-based meat because it often consists of soy and other commonly allergenic ingredients.

Pro Tip: Step up your meat-free cooking game by using these 5 Easy Camping Meal Hacks.

Man eating veggie burger
From veggie burgers to tofu, there are plenty of meat-free alternatives to try.

Is a Meat Substitute Better for You than Real Meat?

It’s been a longstanding debate about whether or not a plant-based meat substitute is better for you than actual meat. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making that determination. But there’s no denying the facts regarding science and nutrition. So, let’s consider three key health elements when comparing real meat and its plant-based counterparts.

Protein

The debate between animal-based and plant-based meat substitutes rages on. But one of the biggest differences between them lies in the protein content.

Animal-based proteins often come from red meats, poultry, and seafood sources. Plant-based eaters tend to get their protein from sources like beans, tofu, and legumes.

Though both offer nutritious sources of protein to help build muscle and keep you healthy, some argue that animal meat is a better source due to its high levels of amino acids necessary for tissue growth and repair.

On the other hand, some feel that plant proteins have more health benefits as they have fewer unhealthy fats associated with meat proteins.

Sodium

When we look at the amount of sodium in animal meat versus plant-based meat substitutes, it’s not always an easy apples-to-apples comparison.

Meat derived directly from animals is naturally relatively low in sodium. A 3-ounce serving of lean beef contains about 55 milligrams of sodium. A freshly cooked portion of pork or veal may have about 60 to 70 milligrams of sodium. 

If that meat is then processed and turned into something like deli meat, the amount of sodium changes dramatically. For instance, bologna can contain upwards of 220 milligrams of sodium per slice, while Braunschweiger liverwurst might contain 300 milligrams.

Although common sense dictates that plant-based options would be just as healthy or even healthier than animal meat, that’s not always the case. Like animal meat, processing has a lot to do with this.

More processed plant-based meat substitutes, such as Beyond Burgers or Impossible Burgers, might contain 370 or 390 milligrams of sodium. Conversely, less processed plant-based foods like tofu and jackfruit only have about 20 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Fats

The amount and the type of fat found in animal meat can differ significantly from the fat and type of fat found in plant-based meat substitutes.

Generally, animal meat contains more saturated and unsaturated fats than the popular plant-based substitute products on the market. These substitutes tend to be higher in monounsaturated fats instead. One benefit of animal meat is that you can reduce the amount of fat by simply cutting away any visible fat. However, that may not change the type of fat contained in the meat.

Nutrition experts recommend reducing or limiting the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats. They also recommend trying to increase the consumption of monounsaturated fats due to their ability to reduce bad cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health.

Fried tempeh
Meat substitutes, like tempeh, taste delicious and are a great protein source.

Do Humans Need Animal Protein? 

It’s a frequently asked question with passionate opinions: Do humans need animal protein? Scientifically speaking, humans don’t need to eat animal protein. We are biologically omnivores, able to eat meat and plants but don’t have to eat animal protein to survive.

Research has shown that plant protein is an effective and nutritious part of any balanced diet. This is a perfect option for those looking for a meat-free way to acquire valuable vitamins and minerals.

On the other side of the aisle come traditionalists who may insist that animal protein is essential for overall health and wellness. They cite studies that show possible benefits from consuming red meat and poultry, especially for athletes working to do strength and endurance training.

Ultimately, it’s about considering facts, understanding your nutritional needs in relation to your specific lifestyle, and finding what works best for you.

What Is the Healthiest Meat Substitute?

There isn’t a lone plant-based meat substitute that is the healthiest, but tempeh comes the closest. It is a soy-based product with a lot of versatility in preparing it, including grilling,  sauteing, and crumbling. You can use tempeh in various ways to prepare a meat-like dish. 

Tempeh is considered one of the healthiest meat substitutes because it’s high in protein and fiber, contains some probiotic benefits, and is less processed than many other meat substitutes.

The healthiest plant-based meat substitutes are generally high in protein, low in sodium, and natural, with minimal processing. Some really good, healthy options are tempeh, beans, jackfruit, mushrooms, lentils, nuts, and seeds, such as quinoa. 

Pro Tip: You don’t need meat to make a delicious treat! We took a closer look at What Are Empanadas and how you can make vegetarian.

Is Plant-Based Meat Actually Good for You?

So, is plant-based meat actually good for you? Yes. Although it’s important to check the labels on processed foods, plant-based meat substitutes are a healthy option for animal protein.

They generally have less saturated fat and cholesterol and are often a good source of fiber. Replacing animal protein with plant-based protein may help reduce your risk of conditions like heart disease and obesity. However, as mentioned above, you have to do what’s best for your nutrition. A meat-based diet may be better for you.

So go ahead and enjoy that veggie burger. It might just be one of the healthiest things you eat all day!

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