Sales of vegan meat increased by 37% in the past year compared to the 2% of their animal counterpart. The market is – hungry– for vegan meat and the data proves it. But the growing demand comes accompanied by doubts and questions, starting from…what is vegan made even made of?
Also called faux meat or plant-based meat, vegan meat is made primarily from soy, wheat gluten, mushrooms or pea protein, varying from brand to brand. It is also filled with various spices, and sometimes oil to mimic the high-fat content and juiciness of animal products.
While vegans exclude animal products from their diets for ethical, environmental and health reasons, it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the taste and texture of meat. Furthermore, vegan meats can help new vegans transition to a plant-based diet and even non-vegans to reduce their meat consumption.
Does Vegan Meat Taste like Meat-Meat?
While that can be a very subjective topic, we want to say that some do and some don’t.
Every brand is different and some people like their vegan meat more meaty than others. We won’t go very deep on the taste wagon, but we’ll leave you with this video to show you what is possible.
Is Vegan Meat Healthier?
Many vegan meat alternatives probably couldn’t be classified as health food, but they are healthier than animal-based meat.
Cholesterol in Vegan Meat
According to the American Heart Association, a diet high in cholesterol can cause fatty buildups in arteries increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol comes from the bodies of animals, who naturally produce it, which means plant-based meats are literally cholesterol-free.
Fiber in Vegan Meat
Vegan meat is also rich in fiber compared to animal meat, which contains zero grams of fiber. Research from the University of Otago linked a diet rich in fiber to a 16 to 24 percent reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and colon cancer.
Furthermore, a Harvard study, with more than 40,000 healthy men, found that a diet rich in fiber may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent.
Sodium in Vegan Meat
The sodium content of vegan meat has raised questions about the product being actually better for you than meat. Consuming too much salt can raise blood pressure and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The sodium content of any product — vegan or not — will differ depending on the brand. The Beyond Burger has 380 mg of sodium — 16 percent of the total recommended daily limit. The Impossible Burger has 370 mg.
Meanwhile, a McDonald’s hamburger patty (on its own, with no bun or other ingredients) has 125 mg. But not all vegan meat has this much sodium. And according to the nutritionist and raw chef, Geeta Sidhu-Robb, salty vegan meat could still be better for you than animal meat.
Health Dangers of Meat
While animal meat has been promoted as a healthy protein and iron source, research continues to point to health hazards:
- A 2018 study by the Cleveland Clinic found that eating red meat could increase the risk of heart disease 1,000 percent more than a plant-based diet.
- In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified red meat as a Group 2 carcinogen, meaning it probably causes cancer in humans. It also placed processed meats like bacon and pepperoni in the Group 1 category next to tobacco and asbestos, which says it is carcinogenic to humans.
- An Oxford University study from earlier this year found that eating just three rashers of bacon a day could increase cancer risk by 20 percent.
- A 2018 study conducted by Cleveland Clinic found that red meat could increase the risk of heart disease 1,000 percent more than plant-based foods. On a meat-heavy diet, the body produces a chemical compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) which is a predictor of future heart problems.
- This study with more than 2,000 young adults found a 60 percent reduced risk of diabetes in people who ate a predominantly plant-based diet over a 20-year period.
- Similar to these findings, a separate study from 2018 found that eating meat could be a cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Finally, cutting out animal products could also reduce the risk of chronic disease, like arthritis and dementia.
Is Meat Bad For The Planet?
Meat is not only bad for the planet, but it’s also environmentally unsustainable – in the concrete sense that the environment cannot sustain the rates at which humans consume meat. It is tremendously inefficient, requiring lots of land, water, fertilizer, and monoculture crops to serve as animal feed.
Furthermore, animal agriculture generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions being the leading driver of several environmental issues including water pollution, air pollution, ocean dead zones, and species loss.
Eating anything plant-based will have a lower environmental impact than eating any animal product. Researchers analyzed data from approximately 40,000 farms in 119 countries and concluded that going vegan is the most powerful tool in the fight against climate change.
What about protein in Vegan Meat?
Even when the average American consumes twice the recommended intake for protein, the obsession over protein continues.
In this case, protein seekers don’t need to worry. Some plant-based meat alternatives have comparable protein levels to the animal-based food that inspired it or more. For example, a 4-ounce Beyond Burger patty has 20 grams of protein, while a cow burger patty of the same size typically has about 16 grams of protein.
Is this the end of meat as we know it?
Not really, while demand for vegan alternatives is growing faster, demand for meat also grew last year and is projected to grow even further. As emerging economies become wealthier, they’d want the same ‘luxuries’ that people in wealthy countries enjoy.
However, the increasing demand for meat presents a set of challenges.
On one side is antibiotic resistance. Animals in factory farms are mass-fed antibiotics to limit the sicknesses that would otherwise kill them in such enclosed spaces. This is a big problem in the United States but even bigger in emerging economies like China, where there are no restrictions on the antibiotics given to animals.
And then, of course, there’s climate change. More meat consumption is just one of the main ways consumers in the developing world cause more greenhouse gas emissions as they become wealthier.
All of these concerns could be, somehow lessen with vegan meat.
Studies have shown consumers in India and China — two of the biggest markets in the world — are broadly enthusiastic about plant-based meat. That suggests it might be possible for plant-based meat to absorb much of the increase in demand for meat.
That’d make a huge difference all by itself. But replacing meat entirely doesn’t look like it’s on the horizon anytime soon.
What is next for vegan meat?
The vegan meat market has just starting to evolve and explode and we will have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have signed agreements with major chain restaurants that will expose more consumers to the products. If we see more agreements happening over the next few months, it’d be a good sign that offering meatless meat is a good business choice.
Another thing to look out for is competition. Major meat companies, such as Tyson and Purdue Farms, are launching their own plant-based meat products. While those launches might be bad for Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, they’re only great news for the industry.
More competition keeps prices down and makes it likelier that the industry can scale up to meet the growing demand for meat.
Now that you know what vegan meat is made of, you can make your decision considering not only the ingredients but the impact for the animals, the planet and your health.
We are confident we will continue to see vegan meat evolve in terms of ‘similar-ness’ and healthy-ness. For now, meat lovers, earth lovers, and animal lovers no longer need to compromise when it comes to honoring their taste buds.
When it comes to faux meat, balance is the key. Vegan burgers, hot dogs, and bacon should be occasional treats with a focus on whole foods such as beans, grains, and vegetables.
Processed plant-based meat might not be the next superfood but it is definitely a healthier alternative to animal meat. It also provides a way for vegans and non-vegans to enjoy the flavors while avoiding the impact and health risks.
In the words of Dr. Mike Varshavski of Family Medicine “This is more of a risk reduction. If you’re eating three burgers a week and you want to reduce your animal intake, please have a meatless burger and reduce it,” he said. “But ideally, I want to just get people off of eating junk food. It’s whole-foods that are going to get you healthy.”
Finally, the choice of what to put in your plate is only yours but is has the power to influence the market and those around you.