If you’ve been into the supermarket recently, chances are you’ve noticed ‘meat-free meat’ or faux meat products popping up on the shelves.
Faux meat products are becoming increasingly popular and more readily available, with brands like Impossible Foods now stocking their imitation beef products in Woolworths, and a petition underway to bring KFC’s Beyond Chicken products to Australia.
To shed light on what faux meat is and whether it’s actually a healthy alternative, Yahoo Lifestyle spoke to Maria Shahid, PhD Candidate, Food Policy at The George Institute for Global Health.
A move away from red meat - for health?
As Shahid explains, “we know that consuming large amounts of red and processed meat products, like sausages, salami, and bacon, puts individuals at risk of developing heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.
"For those concerned about the health impacts of eating too much red meat, faux meat products have provided another way to enjoy that meat-like texture, taste and to reach protein targets."
What are faux meat products?
Most supermarket meat alternatives are plant-based and use protein sources such as soy, pea and wheat, in place of animal proteins.
“They aim to mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat products and some are fortified with nutrients naturally found in meat, such as iron and vitamin B12,” says Shahid.
Are there really health benefits to swapping regular meat for faux meat?
According to Shahid, substituting regular meat products for faux meat products can benefit your health.
“By swapping out regular meat products (particularly processed meats) with plant-based alternatives, we can reduce our risk of developing the negative health outcomes associated with excess meat consumption while maintaining a balanced diet,” says Shahid.
“Plant-based meat alternatives such as the Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods range are relatively new to the market, so we need more research into what long-term benefit these products can provide on their own, beyond any benefits gained from substitution.
“Since most meat alternatives are plant-based, they do have the additional benefit of having higher levels of fibre and lower levels of harmful fats compared to regular meat products.”
Other reasons people choose plant-based meat alternatives
“Beyond issues of health,” says Shahid, “we also know a major reason people are turning towards these products is their desire to reduce meat consumption for other reasons – particularly concerns around environmental sustainability given the known contribution of beef production for example to carbon emissions.”
Keeping processed foods in moderation - how to choose a healthier option
Whilst faux meat products provide a convenient way to reduce regular meat in your diet, experts are clear that swapping out whole foods for highly processed alternatives won’t necessarily improve your health.
“Like any processed food group, not all meat alternatives are created equally. Within the range of products available, there are a range of nutrient values that consumers can look out for - meat alternative products can be high in sodium/salt, so it is important for consumers to read the label and choose products with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g.
“As with processed meat products, many meat alternatives are classified as “ultra-processed”, meaning they go through multiple cooking processes and have long ingredient lists including additives and artificial ingredients.
“Consuming high levels of ultra-processed foods has been linked to negative health outcomes like obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s best to select meat alternatives with shorter ingredient lists in order to make the healthiest choice possible when buying these products.”
The wholefood plant-based alternatives for improved health
So, if you’re keen to make the change and eat less red meat, Shahid suggests building in a variety of plant-based whole foods instead.
“There are a variety of plant-based protein sources we can incorporate into our diet in place of meat or plant-based meat alternatives. These include: falafel, tofu, tempeh, seitan and legumes. In general, the more unprocessed whole foods you can incorporate into your diet, the better.”
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