Meat Substitutes Explained:


The past two years have been great for the alternative meat industry. Major franchises such as Burger King, Subway, and Qdoba have introduced meat alternatives to their menu due to their partnerships with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Since 2019 plant-based meat jumped from a niche market to 40 percent of Americans have tried it. Meat alternatives have become a glimpse of the future of the meat industry and alternative agriculture. In theory, alternative meats are supposed to provide solutions to the increasing problems associated with the meat industry such as antibiotic resistance and the climate crisis. However, there tends to be over hype when it comes to alternative meats and your health so let’s separate fact from fiction.

What are Meat-Alternatives?

Meat alternatives have been around for the last decade ranging from veggie burgers to soy corn dogs at your local grocery store. However, the new meatless meat products on the market today are products made from plants that are meant to taste and look like meat and are marketed towards meat-eating consumers.

Is meatless meat healthier than actual meat?

In general, vegetables are healthy in any diet so people typically assume that plant-based meat is healthier than regular meat but that’s not totally accurate. While plant-based meat can be safe there are limitations and it’s not exactly a ‘health’ food. Plant-based means that most of the ingredients do come from plants, however they are still processed foods. When comparing to actual meat, meat alternatives do omit some of the negatives of meat like antibiotics and GMOs, although it’s probably just as good for your health as the meat product it is imitating.

What’s in meat alternatives?

Although meat-alternatives are plant-based that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re only made with plants. In most meat alternative/plant-based products there can be a range of additives such as chemicals in order to give the taste and look of meat. The reason why today’s meat alternatives do so well in today’s market is primarily due to their close resemblance to real meat. In order for these products to achieve the taste and look of real meat, some additional ingredients are required which could be potentially harmful to your health.

Ingredients to look out for in meat-alternatives:

Soy leghemoglobin (Heme): Heme is an iron-containing compound found in every living organism. Heme is naturally found in animal blood or in the case of soy, in the roots. Meat alternative companies use heme which is a genetically modified protein that imitates the beefy taste and bloody color of real meat. Companies who use this ingredient claim that heme is safe, however since it’s a relatively new compound there isn’t enough research to show the long-term effects.

Erythrosine (Red #3): Red #3 is an artificial food coloring. The FDA banned the use of Red #3 in products such as cosmetics in 1990 after high doses of the substance were linked to cancer. But it can still be used in things such as meat alternatives.

Tertiary butylhydroquinone: TBHQ is a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. The FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in foods because studies of laboratory animals have found a connection between TBHQ and cancer.

Ferric orthophosphate: AKA iron phosphate, this chemical is used to solidify foods. However, it can also be used as a pesticide to kill slugs and snails. The FDA considers this chemical safe for people in food in small quantities but it can cause stomach irritation.

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