People are increasingly choosing vegetarian diets for ethical, environmental and health reasons. However, whether highly processed meat substitutes offer the same health benefits as plant-based diets is still being studied. Despite this, there was a significant increase in the sale of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives in the US from 2019 to 2020, but it is important to carefully examine the nutritional value of these products before assuming they are better than animal-based options.
The Impossible Burger is a plant-based patty that closely mimics the taste, texture and smell of real beef. It’s made from soy and is formulated with heme, a flavor-enhancing ingredient that is produced from genetically engineered yeast. It’s sold frozen in grocery stores and available in some restaurants. It was designed to appeal to meat lovers and its production is reportedly more environmentally sustainable than traditional beef production.
Nutritionally, the Impossible Burger has more protein, fiber and iron than traditional beef patties, but it also has a much higher sodium content. It also has lower calorie, total fat and saturated fat content, despite using coconut oil as one of the main ingredients. However, consuming an Impossible Burger with a bun and condiments can contribute to a high-sodium meal.
It is important to not assume that plant-based meat substitutes are automatically healthy and can be consumed in large quantities. It’s crucial for individuals to understand the pros and cons of these products and be aware of appropriate serving sizes to avoid the “health halo” that these products often have. Additionally, even though many meat substitutes may have comparable or even superior levels of micronutrients such as iron, the availability of these nutrients is not guaranteed. Research has shown that the phytate content of plant-based products can greatly reduce the bioavailability of iron and zinc, with the exception of tempeh which is more easily absorbed due to the fermentation process.
Furthermore, for those choosing to cut out red meat for heart health, it is important to note that lean meats and seafood offer nutritional benefits that are not always found in meat substitutes. Studies have shown that there is no major advantage of poultry over beef as long as the fat content is low. Instead of relying on processed vegan products, it is recommended to switch to leaner cuts of meat and include wholesome vegetarian superfoods such as walnuts, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables in the diet.