In recent years, plant-based proteins, or “fake meat,” have grown in popularity as consumers look to eat less animal products. In fact, plant-based protein in It is predicted to be a $3 billion opportunity for Australia by 2030.
Many consumers believe that these fake meats are better for their health, as well as better for the environment, but is it true?
What is fake meat?
It may seem obvious, but the first thing to say is that fake meat is not meat. He has been heavily criticized by the meat industry for referring to these products as meat, and as a result, a recent Senate committee report recommended mandatory legislation to identify plant-based products.
Proteins fall into two categories: plant-based proteins and cell-based proteins.
Plant-based burgers and sausages found on supermarket shelves are made by extracting protein from plant foods, usually peas, soy, wheat protein, and mushrooms.
But to make these products look and taste like traditional meat, a lot of additives are needed.
For example, chemically refined coconut oil and palm oil are often added to plant-based burgers to help mimic the meat’s smooth, salty texture. Beyond meat, coloring agents such as beetroot infusion have been used to mimic the color change that occurs when “raw” burger meat is cooked. And extra soy leghemoglobin produced by genetically engineered yeast has been used to create “bleeding” burgers into impossible foods.
Something not yet on supermarket shelves in Australia is cell-based or “cultured” meat. This fake meat is made from animal cells grown in a laboratory culture. Although it may seem like a far-fetched concept, Australia already has two cell-based meat producers.
Is fake meat healthy?
The good news is that an audit of more than 130 products in Australian supermarkets found that plant-based products were, on average, higher in calories and saturated fat, and higher in carbohydrates and fiber than meat products.
But not all herbal products are created equal.
In fact, there are significant differences in nutritional content between products. For example, the fat content of plant-based burgers in this audit ranged from 0.2 to 8.5 grams per 100 grams, meaning some plant-based products contain more saturated fat than a beef patty.
The salt content of plant-based products is high, but it varies between products. Plant-based mince contains up to 6 times more sodium than meat equivalents, while plant-based sausages contain an average of two-thirds less sodium.
The question then is, does replacing animal-based foods with plant-based foods improve health?
In an eight-week trial of 36 American adults, researchers found that switching to more plant-based foods (while keeping other foods and beverages as balanced as possible) improved heart disease risk, including cholesterol levels and body weight. However, research in this area is still in its infancy, and long-term trials are needed.
The bottom line is that fake meats are classified as highly processed foods.
They undergo extensive industrial processing and contain ingredients that have “no or rare culinary value”, meaning you won’t find them in your average kitchen cupboard.
For the government and the food industry, there is an opportunity for these highly processed plant-based products to be reformulated to contain less fat and sodium and to reduce the use of chemically derived additives.
Is fake meat better for the environment?
Yes, it could be.
US Beyond Meat claims its burger uses 99% less water, 93% less land and 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional beef.
However, the environmental footprint of plant-based products is a controversial topic, with highly processed foods in particular widely criticized as being environmentally unfriendly.
A study published this month in Lancet Planetary Health looked at the ethical and economic implications of eating more plant-based products. Researchers have found that switching from beef to plant-based products would reduce the carbon footprint of US food production by 2.5-13.5% by reducing the number of animals needed for meat production by 2-12 million.
However, researchers are less clear about any benefits to agricultural labor and natural resources.
So should we eat fake meat?
Fake meat can be enjoyed as an “occasional meal” as part of a healthy diet.
When choosing plant-based products, check the label to choose low-salt and high-fiber options.
If you’re looking for an alternative to meat that’s healthier for you and the environment, whole plant foods are by far the best option for a plant-based or flexible diet.
Fresh or canned grains, beans, and chickpeas can be used to make your own meat-free burgers, and herbs and spices can add flavor to tofu.
Eating these whole plant foods is in line with Australia’s Healthy Eating Guidelines, which recommend choosing lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and whole grains/beans, and eating less processed meats such as salami, bacon and the like. Sausages.
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