You can get a plant-based version of just about all meat products in the United States. Plant-based burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets, and even crabcakes can be purchased from health food stores and even your regular supermarket.
We know the benefits of a plant-based diet for the planet and the ethical reasons behind it, but is plant-based meat actually a healthier alternative to its meat counterparts?
What is plant-based meat?
Plant-based meat is a meat alternative that is made entirely from plants. These products contain a variety of different ingredients which are used to replicate the taste and texture of meat to avoid the negative impacts of consuming meat.
Plant-based meat is often made from soybeans as soy is a versatile ingredient, has a meat-like texture, and soaks up flavors easily. On top of that, it’s a complete protein and high in fiber. You may also see plant-based meats made from peas, mushrooms, vital wheat gluten, nuts, chickpeas, lentils, or other types of beans.
The nutritional differences between meat and plant-based meat
Many studies break down the health benefits of a plant-based diet. From weight management to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cutting out meat can drastically improve your life. When it comes to plant-based meat alternatives, there are many nutritional differences between them and meat itself. Let’s look at how they both stack up against each other in different dietary categories.
When comparing the calories in plant-based meat to equal parts animal protein, the plant-based versions almost always contain lower calories. Most of the compiled information and research looks at plant-based burgers vs. meat burgers as they are the most popular and have been around the longest. If we look at a standard meat burger patty at 113 grams, it will be around 330 calories, with many being much more. A patty of similar size made with plant-based meat is only 176 calories.
Fats are an important part of our diets, but there is a difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Trans fats are a big no-no and naturally occur in some meat products. Trans fat contributes to weight gain and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Luckily, you won’t find any trans fat in plant-based meat.
Consuming saturated fats in both meat and plant-based meat is inevitable, and we actually need a small amount for energy. But overdoing it raises your bad cholesterol levels and lowers your good ones, which can lead to heart disease down the line. As a general rule, 10% or less of your daily caloric intake should be saturated fats.
A standard beef burger contains about 14g of fat, where a plant-based burger only has around 6g. Since most plant-based meat products come from health-conscious brands, they often use healthier sources of fat, like coconut oil or olive oil.
Cholesterol content is the biggest difference between plant-based meat alternatives and animal products. One of our favorite plant-based meat snacks in Texas is jerky, but beef jerky has about 13.6mg of cholesterol per ounce. Plant-based jerky contains no cholesterol at all, making it a much better option. Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so you won’t find it in any plant-based meats. Your body makes enough cholesterol on its own, so you don’t need to consume it in your diet.
Meat has no fiber. None. Fiber is an essential building block for our diets as it helps our bodies to digest food properly and contributes to good bowel health. A diet low in fiber can increase the risk of colon cancer, varicose veins, and constipation.
On the flip side, high fiber diets help lower your risk of heart disease, and plant-based meats are full of fiber! One cup of soybeans has almost 14g of fiber, so choosing plant-based meats made with soy will help ensure you’re getting tons of fiber into your diet, keeping your gut healthy.
5. Vitamins and other nutrients
Plant-based meat products are also packed with iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, zinc, B vitamins, and copper. The extent of these extra vitamins depends on the ingredients of plant-based meat. But in general, you won’t struggle to find options that have a lot of beneficial nutrients.
A study done in 2019 audited a variety of different plant-based meats available in Australian supermarkets for their sodium content. When compared to their meat counterparts, only 4% ranked lower in sodium. That said, many meat products contain substantially more—the biggest offender: bacon.
That doesn’t mean that all plant-based meats are higher in sodium; it just means that it’s something you need to look out for when you’re choosing products. The American Heart Association recommends sticking below 2300mg of sodium per day, so just be aware of that when selecting any plant-based meat, and you can definitely keep it within those parameters.
The first thing people ask about when it comes to plant-based meat is whether or not you can get enough protein from it. For reference, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is only 0.36g per pound of bodyweight, which is not as much as people think. It’s very easy to achieve this amount and much more through the consumption of plant-based meats.
Check out the protein in our plant-based meats
On average, this would equate to 56g for men and 46g for women. If you’re a bodybuilder or exercise heavily, then this number will be higher, but you can still get a healthy amount of protein from plant-based meat. For example, one Beyond Meat burger has 20g of protein, so a woman would only need 2.5 of them in the entire day to surpass her recommended consumption of protein. There’s also 2g of protein in one tablespoon of Bacony Bits.
Choosing healthy plant-based meat options
Like anything we choose to put into our bodies, it comes down to consuming consciously. You can eat plant-based meat in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. Plant-based meat on its own will not provide your body with all the nutrients you need to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s essential to consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and plant-based meats to ensure your body is getting everything it needs. Always read the labels, make choices wisely, enjoy in moderation, and experience all the delicious plant-based meats that your heart desires!