The ins and outs of meat substitutes


By Leanne McCrate



Dear Dietitian,

This past weekend, a friend encouraged me to try a meatless burger. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was delicious and tasted like meat! Are these meatless substitutes better for you than meat?

Thanks,

Josh

Dear Josh,

When it comes to consumer satisfaction, burgers made with meat substitutes taste like meat, look like meat, and have a similar texture. Consumers are switching to plant-based diets for many reasons, including protecting animals, preserving the environment, and general health concerns. Sales of meat alternatives have risen 60% over the last two years, garnering $922.2 million in 2020 alone (1).

Many of these meat alternatives are made of soy which contains isoflavones, a plant estrogen. At one time, this was a concern for the increased risk of breast cancer in women. However, research has shown there are not enough isoflavones in whole soy products to increase the risk of breast cancer. Caution should be taken, however, when taking soy supplements or consuming processed soy products, which contain larger amounts of isoflavones (2).

One advantage of a plant-based diet is it tends to be higher in fiber. A high fiber diet has been associated with lower rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and possibly some types of cancer. One disadvantage of choosing meat substitutes is they are about twice the cost of meat per pound. Consumers can dodge this price hike by choosing whole foods, such as beans, lentils, and soy as their protein sources. Another disadvantage is the lack of vitamin B12 in a diet free of meat and animal products. If you choose to go vegan, consider a B12 supplement, as its function is vital in nerve function.

Are meatless alternatives better for you? My mantra is “Keep it simple.” The same rules apply to meat substitutes as they apply to meat when assessing nutritional value. Is it high in fat? What about saturated fat? What is the sodium level? Is it a good source of protein?

When opting for a meat substitute, choose one made from whole foods. Look for items made from tofu, beans, vegetables, and quinoa. Choose a product seasoned with herbs and spices, and beware of fillers, which add calories but little or no nutrition. A rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it or it contains more than four syllables, it may be a filler. Last but not least, select a product that is low in saturated fat.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

References

1. Growing Demand for Plant-based Proteins. Nielsen IQ (2021, Sept 9). https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2021/examining-shopper-trends-in-plant-based-proteins-accelerating-growth-across-mainstream-channels/

2. Zeratsky, K. Will Eating Soy Increase my Risk of Breast Cancer? Mayo Clinic (2018, Nov 21) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/soy-breast-cancer-risk/faq-20120377

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By Leanne McCrate

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at [email protected]

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at [email protected]