Are meatless meats healthy? I break it down this afternoon on FOX.
People are transitioning to plant-based diet because it is good for our health.
Plant-based proteins are also naturally low or devoid of saturated fat, found primarily in animal products, and something we want to avoid in excess due to its potential link to heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat consumption to only 5-6% of your total daily calories (about 13 grams per day based on a 2000 calorie diet, 120 calories.) Eating foods that contain saturated fats, raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods – the majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.
Plant-based proteins have things that meat doesn’t – fiber, an essential nutrient that most Americans aren’t getting enough of.
Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day, men for 38. Fiber helps with digestion, regularity and lowering blood cholesterol. Fiber is found in whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. Plants also have something that meat doesn’t have – phytonutrients like carotenoids that help prevent or stop cell damage and may help protect against certain diseases.
Research shows a myriad of benefits from plant-based diets
Plant based diets have been associated with lowering heart disease risk, supporting weight management, lowering risk of most chronic diseases. A well-balanced, plant-based diet is composed of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, and a small amount of nuts and seeds. Half of the plate should consist of vegetables and fruits in accordance with the US Department of Agriculture, American Cancer Society, and American Heart Association, because they are filled with fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, folate, and vitamins C and A—almost all of the nutrients that tend to run low in the American population, according to the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
People are transitioning to plant-based diet because it is good for the environment
Plant-based proteins have a smaller carbon footprint than beef
Beef requires more energy, fertilizer, land to produce plus transportation costs. Vegetarian diet greatly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, but switching to less carbon intensive meats can have a major impact as well. Carbon footprints are a measure greenhouse gas emissions.
Eating locally or embracing one vegetarian meal a week (meatless Monday) can reduce your carbon footprint.
Organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy during production but requires one-third more hours of human labor compared to typical farming practices, making it more expensive.
We shouldn’t eliminate meat completely.
Animal protein provided nutrients you can’t get from plants. Iron from animal protein is more bioavailable than that found in plants. Heme-iron found in red meat is better absorbed and utilized by our body – important especially if you are prone to anemia. Although vitamin C containing foods paired with plant based proteins can help aid absorption. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient naturally found in animal products including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. It is generally not present in available quantities in plant foods.
Some of these plant-based proteins don’t have the best ingredients lists.
In order to achieve that meaty taste and texture, a lot of these plant-based meats don’t have the best ingredient lists. Many add ingredients like sugar, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. However, they are usually made with a nutritious base of beans, soybeans, legumes and whole grains.
As as dietitian, I generally recommend staying away from processed foods as much as you can and embracing real, whole foods.
As long as you are staying within the dietary recommendations of saturated fat, incorporating real meat is fine because of the vitamins and minerals it provides along with the high quality, complete protein. Proteins are primarily important for tissue growth and repair. Plant proteins are generally considered incomplete because they do not contain all the essential amino acids or protein building blocks needed to build cells. Incomplete proteins found in plant foods can be mixed together to make a complete protein. As a general rule, grains, cereals, nuts, or seeds can be eaten together with dried beans, dried peas, lentils, peanuts or peanut butter. Our body evolved to know how to digest and absorb real, whole foods. Processed foods often have hidden sugar and added sodium.