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Plant-Based Meat: What Is It Made of, and Is It Healthy?

November 16, 2021

The chances are that there are multiple types of plant-based “meat” in your supermarket, and even if you eat animal meat you may have picked up a package out of curiosity. You wouldn’t be alone. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased by 11 percent from 2018 to 2019, creating a plant-based market value of $4.5 billion. The market for vegan meats alone is estimated to reach over $14.9 billion by 2027. 

Supermarkets aren’t the only companies embracing plant-based meats. Restaurants and fast-food chains around the world—including Burger King, McDonald’s, Del Taco, and Pizza Hut—have added plant-based meat to their menus. Consumers are exploring these options and rejecting animal cruelty, the negative health impacts of consuming meat, injustice to workers, and the damage that the meat industry has done to the global environment.

More than 70 billion animals (excluding fish and other sea life) are farmed each year for their flesh and bodily secretions, yet this is a wasteful way of feeding ourselves. More than 80 percent of farmland is used to raise animals for meat and dairy, while these products only provide 18 percent of our calories. A 2018 study found that the best way to reduce your environmental impact is to ditch animal products.  

What Is Plant-Based Meat?

Plant-based meat is pretty straightforward: it is meat made out of plants. Plant-based meats come in many different textures and flavors, all without animals being slaughtered to produce them. Some of them are created to feel and taste like animal-based meat so that they provide a realistic substitute, while other brands don’t try to precisely mimic animal flesh. 

What Is Plant-Based Meat Made Of? 

Each plant-based meat product is made differently. Many contain legumes, grains, and vegetable protein. The most common ingredients are peas, soybeans, lentils, quinoa, potato starch, mung beans, mushrooms, coconut oil, and seitan, though these are just a few of the many possibilities. 

Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?

While not all plant-based meats are created in the same way or with the same level of focus on health, it is safe to say that plant-based meat is healthier in general when compared to animal-based meat. 

Plant-Based Meat Versus Meat from Animals

Plant-based meats usually have lower amounts of total saturated fat than animal-based meat, and zero cholesterol, both of which increase your risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. In addition, processed animal-based meat can also increase the risk of stomach and bowel cancers.

Plant-based meats contain fiber, which animal meats do not, reducing the risk of developing breast, colon, and other digestive-related cancers while boasting comparable amounts of protein and calories. They are also generally good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A 2020 study examined the health effects of plant-based meats versus animal-based meats and found healthier results for the participants who ate plant-based. The study found that participants who ate at least two servings of plant-based meat for eight weeks lowered their risk factors for cardiovascular disease compared to participants who ate the same amount of animal-based meat for the same duration. 

What Are the Healthiest Plant-Based Meats?

In order to choose healthier plant-based meats, there are some helpful things to look out for on food labels, including:

  • A nutrient-dense ingredients list that is made up mostly of whole foods like nuts, seeds, grains, beans, legumes, and vegetables.
  • Added vitamins and minerals such as B12 or D.
  • Saturated fat contributing less than 10 percent of the calories.

There are also a few things to avoid, such as:

  • Artificial ingredients, fillers, or additives.
  • Ingredients containing milk or eggs. 

What Are Some Examples of Plant-Based Meats?

New types of plant-based meats are hitting the shelves every day. Many of them aim to replicate the taste of animal products:

  • Chicken: In factory farms, chickens are raised in cramped and unsanitary conditions. They are selectively bred to gain a lot of weight quickly, which causes health issues, including foot and leg problems that can leave birds unable to walk or stand up. Choosing plant-based chicken reduces the demand that fuels factory farming. When it comes to plant-based chicken, current offerings include those from Beyond Meat, Impossible, Gardein, Daring, Alpha Foods, Nuggs, Tofurky, Morning Star, and Deliciou
  • Eggs: Chickens used for their eggs are also kept in cramped, unsanitary, and unhealthy conditions. They are forced to produce many more eggs than they would out of captivity, and suffer from a number of health issues that generally go untreated. Luckily JUST Egg offers a delicious egg substitute, as does Follow Your Heart. If you’re looking to bake but decide to drop eggs, there are a number of substitute ingredients that can easily get the job done. 
  • Fish and Shrimp: It is no secret that humans are overfishing the oceans, with many populations of fish and other ocean creatures declining to near extinction. Each year, up to 2.7 trillion fish are caught from the wild, and an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises are killed as bycatch. Many people are shocked to find out that six out of seven species of sea turtles are either threatened or endangered due to fishing. When you add up the numbers, it doesn’t make sense to continue using fish and shrimp as food. Thankfully companies like Good Catch, Gardein, and Sophie’s Kitchen make plant-based seafood, and you can even buy plant-based shrimp
  • Pork: Pigs live in conditions in factory farms that limit their natural behaviours and damage their health so that humans can consume pork. Companies like OmniPork, No Evil Foods, Beyond Meat, Impossible, and Outstanding make easily available plant-based pork products, including ground sausage, breakfast sausage patties and links, and bratwurst and Italian sausage.  

What Are Some Plant-based Meat Companies?

  • Abbot’s Butcher: If you’ve been waiting to try plant-based slow-roasted chicken and Spanish smoked chorizo, this company has what you need. 
  • Beyond Meat: This company serves up the Beyond burger as well as plant-based sausage (both dinner and breakfast), chicken, and ground beef. 
  • Boca: This brand cooks up plant-based veggie burgers, turkey burgers, chicken patties, nuggets, crumbles, and more. 
  • Daring: This company's mission is to “remove chicken from our food system.” Try their different types of chicken including lemon and herb, cajun, and breaded chicken. 
  • Dr. Praeger’s: This health-conscious company makes a variety of foods including plant-based sliders, burgers, chicken tenders, and more. They are one of the healthier brands on the market.
  • Field Roast: Although this brand is owned by the giant Maple Leaf Foods, they are well known for their burgers, holiday roasts, and sausages. 
  • Gardein: Also owned by Maple Leaf Foods, Gardein creates realistic plant-based versions of burgers, fish fillets, turkey cutlets, and chicken.
  • Good Catch: They create plant-based tuna and sustainable seafood products such as fish sticks and crab cakes.
  • Hilary’s: This is another healthy brand that cooks up plant-based products that are free from common allergens and are whole-foods based. Some of their products include veggie burgers and sausages. 
  • Impossible Foods: This popular brand is the creator of the Impossible Burger as well as plant-based sausages and pork.
  • Just: This innovative brand creates a plant-based egg that allows you to scramble, bake, and whip up omelets, cruelty-free.
  • Lightlife: They offer plant-based ground meats, burgers, deli slices, and more.
  • Morningstar Farms: After finally going 100 percent plant-based, Morningstar Farms now offers burgers, chicken nuggets, chicken patties, and sausage.
  • Simulate: Simulate’s Nuggs have a texture similar to animal-based chicken, and the company creates the flavor of their plant-based chicken with soy protein.
  • Outstanding Foods: If you’re looking for a protein-packed snack of plant-based pork rinds, this company has you covered.
  • Quorn: This company creates an array of products including plant-based fish sticks, buffalo dippers, and spicy chicken patties. 
  • Sophie’s Kitchen: Protect the sea and choose plant-based shrimp, crab cakes, smoked salmon, and more by Sophie’s Kitchen.
  • Tofurky: Although they are well known for their famous holiday roasts, this all-vegan company also makes deli slices, ham roasts, and other products.
  • Tyson’s Raised & Rooted: One of the world’s largest meat producers has decided to cash in on plant-based foods as they rise in popularity. They make plant-based sausages, nuggets, burgers, and ground beef.

Plant-Based Meat Recipes

If you’re interested in creating your own plant-based meat at home, you’ll find that the internet is full of delicious and diverse recipes. Try making your own plant-based fried fish with Nora Cooks, ground beef with Karissa’s Kitchen, steak with The Cheeky Chickpea, or ribs with Baked In. Don’t be afraid to test out these seven homemade vegan sausage recipes, these 15 crispy and chewy pigless bacon recipes, or thumb through these 60 recipes that allow you to recreate some of your favorite meat dishes, minus the animals.

Conclusion

Choosing plant-based meats over animal-based products is kinder to the animals, your body, and the planet. With so many plant-based meat products on the market, as well as delicious and creative recipes to try at home, it’s never been easier to eat the foods that you love without supporting animal cruelty. 

Sharing this article helps raise awareness about the impact of factory farming on humans, animals, and the environment.

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