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Is going vegan the solution?

It is getting easier and easier to be vegan in America - especially in Los Angeles where I live. Several restaurants near me offer vegetarian food options. My social media feeds are full of articles and videos that teach me how to substitute meat with vegan alternatives.

I call myself a 'part-time' vegan where I eat more plants, less processed and very few animal products like milk and cheese. I think cruelty-free food rocks. I love that we don't always have to kill animals or use animal products for our food, and I love that we are better able to take care of our planet.



A year ago, I switched from regular to nut milk for my shakes. Most days, I use oil instead of butter and chia and flax seeds instead of eggs. I think these have been easy and healthy moves - ones that do not require using any animal products.

Over the last few years, I have seen so many innovative 'plant-based' products - Meatless chicken, dairy-less cheese and butter, Beyond Meat patties, Incogmeato nuggets, lab-manufactured shrimp, vegan sausages, meatballs, pepperoni slices, buffalo wings and fake-meat bacon.


This trend is hot because we are all thinking a lot more about what we are putting into our bodies. We have realized that red meat is not so great for us. But because many of us miss meat or the protein that it adds to our diets, we find the plant-based meat alternatives so much more attractive.





According to the Good Food Institute (2020), the plant-based meat industry is worth $939 million. Their report indicates that the dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 18% in the past year and 38% over the past two years.


The question I want to raise today is this:

Is all this innovative plant-based food good for us and the environment? Is it really healthy? Is a plant-based burger patty better than beef patty?

 

TL;DR

After a ton of research, my opinion is that plant-based meat is great for the environment but not the best for our health. I want to share what I have learned, and I will keep it short. Read along.

 

The Good

1. Plant-based meat generates way less greenhouse gas emissions, requires half the energy and practically no water and little land compared to raising and slaughtering cattle for beef. A real winner, in that sense.



2. E-Coli bacterial infections are a real issue in the meat industry. Antibiotics are overused in animal agriculture. This raises the risk of transmitting drug-resistant bacteria to humans, often by direct infections. We do not encounter this problem with plant-based meat at all.

 

The Bad

1. Consuming a red meat burger patty on a regular basis can lead to cholesterol issues because of the high saturated fat content in it. This can possibly lead to heart disease or to cancer. In comparison, a plant-based Impossible or Beyond burger patty made from pea or soy protein may have less saturated fat and no cholesterol. It also has fiber. But compared to real beef, these plant-based burgers are very high in sodium. An uncooked 4-ounce beef patty has 75 milligrams of sodium, compared to 370 + milligrams in a plant-based patty.


2. The meaty flavor and the appearance in some of these plant-based food comes from an iron-containing molecule called 'heme'. It is derived from the roots of soy plants and is fermented in a genetically engineered yeast. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a higher intake of heme elevates risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. (FYI: Beyond Meat does not use heme but uses another process that mimics flavors and composition of meat)

3. Beef burger patties have one ingredient: Beef. A plant-based burger patty can have up to 18 ingredients, some names (you see below) are completely unfamiliar. To match it up to beef, lots of additional nutrients have to be fortified and added to the mix. In other words, it doesn't feel very natural.


Some of the ingredients you may find:

[Pea / Soy / Potato / Mung Bean Protein Isolate, Canola oil, refined coconut oil, food starch Modified, soy leghemoglobin, mixed tocopherols, methylcellulose, zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (Vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, etc. ]

 

The Ugly

Any kind of food preparation results in the loss of nutrients in the food. (That's why the raw food movement is so popular). A process that exposes food to high heat, light, oxygen or fluids during cooking is likely to cause some level of nutrient loss.


The biggest issue that my research found with any plant-based meat products is how they are processed. Some products are created using the extrusion technology where proteins undergo thermal and mechanical stresses by heating of the barrel. Temperature and moisture affect the properties of soy and pea proteins. A process called wet texturization uses chemical and physical processes to create a fibrous structure. Other products use a high-temperature shear cell technology where the material is put between two cylinders that heat and cool by air or water.

 

SO, what's my conclusion?

Is going vegan a good thing? Yes. It's a good socially-conscious, environmental-friendly choice.


Is it possible to avoid dairy products via alternatives such as oil and chia seeds? Yes, its easy, and you should do it.


Do I subscribe to the plant-based MEAT movement? Absolutely not. Because even though all these food creation techniques seem novel and interesting, they are definitely highly processed. Meat-like products are not a great substitute because they are not as healthy for our bodies as you may think.


As New York Times best-selling author Mark Bittman says,

'...The truly healthy alternative to a processed chip is not a fake chip, it is a carrot. Likewise, the alternative to sausage is not vegan sausage; it's less sausage'

I have always enjoyed following the cool, healthy trends, trying new food techniques and finding ways to avoid animal products in my diet. After this research, I have decided to calibrate my approach a little - and make my own burger patties and use actual food like whole grains and legumes, seeds and nuts.


This is my recommendation - Don't stop anything. Eat meat in moderation if you don't want to leave it completely. Be discerning. Think.


When you buy a vegan food product, check for these things on the label:

a. How many chemical-like names do you see?

b. How many ingredients do you see on the box?

c. What is the sodium content?


Just because it is vegan, it is not necessarily healthy. Because it is not always real food.

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About Me

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Hey there! I am Komal Kapoor,

LA-based Indian-American who loves to share experiences in food, world travel, wellness and luxury!

 

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