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Plant-based Meat – Learn More About This Tasty Alternative

Plant-based alternatives to meat have sprouted up in grocery stores and restaurants as consumers cut back on meat consumption to improve health. There are pros and cons to meat alternatives, and additional ways to get protein your body needs. 

What Are Meat Alternatives?

Plant-based meat alternatives, under brand names such as Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, Incogmeato and many others, are highly processed foods that combine protein-rich vegetables like peas, beans and soy with starches or gluten, oils, salt, and other ingredients to create a unique-tasting product designed to replace meat. Some also contain genetically modified ingredients to enhance the meat-like flavor. Every brand is different in terms of ingredients, nutritional benefit and taste.

While many of these products can taste like conventional beef, chicken and pork and come in familiar forms like ground, burgers, nuggets and sausage, they do not contain animal biproducts.

Other plant-based alternatives may not taste quite as meat-like, such as a black bean burger or a Gardenburger, but also serve as alternative protein sources.

How Do They Match Up to Meat?

“We know from many years of research that eating less meat in favor of eating more plants lowers our risk for many serious health complications like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer, and can slow the progression of chronic kidney disease. So, the desire to choose a plant-based alternative is a good instinct toward healthier eating,” said Camilia Makhyoun, DO, of Samaritan Kidney Specialists - Corvallis.

But are these plant-based alternatives a better bet? The research isn’t conclusive.

“Plant-based alternatives are relatively new so haven’t been researched long-term,” explained Dr. Makhyoun. “However, studies show that although there are nutritional differences among the varieties of plant-based alternatives on the market, many offer lower total and saturated fats than conventional meats and can be a good source of vitamins and minerals. Plant-based alternatives also provide more fiber than meat. Salt content varies by product.

“You want to definitely read the product label, so you know what you’re eating,” she added.

Here are additional pros and cons to meat alternatives:

Pros of Meat Alternatives

  • Makes a Good Transition Food – To reduce meat consumption, plant-based alternatives make a good start. Because these products mimic the texture and taste of meat, they can serve as a good substitute and protein source for conventional meat in sandwiches or meals like spaghetti, tacos and casseroles.
  • Adds Variety to Meals – It’s easy to get stuck in the routine of meal planning, eating the same meals over and over. A meat substitute could help you shake up your routine and try something new.
  • Provides a Good Source of Fiber – In studies, plant-based meat alternatives were all higher in fiber than meat.
  • Kinder to Animals & the Environment – For many, choosing to eat a food without animal ingredients makes plant-based a worthy option. The production of plant-based alternatives also has less impact on the environment and can offer a more sustainable option to the raising of livestock and conventional meat production.

Cons of Meat Alternatives

  • Be Aware of the Ingredients – “If you are watching your diet for health reasons, pay attention to the type of oils contained in the product you choose, as well as the overall fat and sodium content and choose accordingly. Some plant-based options are far better than others, so do your research,” Dr. Makhyoun aid.
  • Don’t Make It Your Only Protein – To get the vitamins and minerals your body needs, eating a mix of protein sources, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, protein-rich vegetables and lean meats, is a good way to go. “Plant-based meat alternatives can be part of that mix, but it isn’t healthy as your only protein source,” added Dr. Makhyoun.
  • Costs More – If you figure costs per serving, plant-based meat alternatives are frequently more costly than meat, beans, lentils and other more conventional protein sources.

Other Ways To Add Plant Protein

Consider exploring all the ways to incorporate plant protein into your diet.

“Strive to make simple, whole foods without a lot of processing a key part of your regular diet,” said Dr. Makhyoun. “There are many great plant proteins out there to choose from.”

  • Beans & Lentils – These high-fiber, nutritional foods are good added to salads, made into burgers, or added to soups or casseroles. There are many varieties of beans and lentils to choose from, so if you don’t like one kind, try another. Check out health food stores or the bulk foods section of your grocery for some interesting options.

  • Tofu – Tofu is made from soybeans. One of the benefits of tofu is that it takes on the taste of sauce or spices very well, so experiment with what agrees with your tastebuds. Try it in smoothies, a stir-fry or marinated and baked.

  • Whole Grains – Whole grains such as quinoa, oats, wild rice and other ancient grains have a surprising amount of protein and can easily be added to many meals.

“For those with chronic kidney disease, it is good to incorporate a mix of plant-based proteins into your diet. However, it’s important to monitor the levels of potassium and phosphorus contained in that protein. The National Kidney Foundation offers helpful guidelines, and your doctor and dietitian are good resources as well,” said Dr. Makhyoun.

Transforming your diet from meat-heavy to plant-heavy can take patience and experimentation.

“When it comes to eating, we tend to lean into those foods we’re most familiar with, but there’s a big world of food options out there. If you’re willing to experiment with new foods, you may find the transition from meat-centered meals to more plant-based options less painful than you expect. And your health will benefit,” said Dr. Makhyoun.

Dr. Camilia Makhyoun, see patients at Samaritan Kidney Specialists – Corvallis. To reach her, call 541-768-6930.