There are several pros and cons of plant-based meat, from nutritional composition to sustainability. Should you be eating it? Find out here!
Plant-based meat’s popularity has exploded in recent years. You can now choose from a variety of plant-based meat alternatives, including swaps for chicken, beef, pork, and even fish. But these products don’t come without benefits and drawbacks.
Here, I review the pros and cons of plant-based meat from its potential benefit to your health and the environment—as well as a few plant-based meat disadvantages related to their processing.
What is plant-based meat?
Plant-based meat is a meat substitute intended to replicate the taste and appearance of real meat. Often, plant-based meat is made from one or more types of plant-based protein such as pea, hemp, soy, or wheat protein.
Some companies also use additional ingredients like beet root to mimic the color of real meat in their products.
Popular brands of plant-based meat include Beyond, Impossible, Lightlife, Field Roast, and Incogmeato by Morning Star Farms. However, this list is not conclusive, and many plant-based brands continue to make their way to store shelves.
Pros and cons of plant-based meat
While plant-based meat has many positive benefits, it doesn’t come without a few drawbacks.
For starters, plant-based meat offers a convenient swap for real meat in recipes and is especially appealing to people looking to up their plant intake without losing the taste and texture of real meat.
However, it is highly processed in some cases, and this isn’t always beneficial for health. A closer look at the pros and cons of choosing plant-based meat can help you make the best decision for your diet.
Plant-based meat can help you reduce red meat intake which may improve overall health.
Plant-based meat, especially the types that closely mimic real meat like Beyond and Impossible, are appealing to people who aren’t ready to fully transition to a plant-based diet.
These products offer a similar taste and texture to real meat, which may reduce red meat intake overall.
This reduction in red meat in the diet has shown to provide many positive health benefits. This includes reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, reducing or eliminating processed meats from the diet has also shown to reduce the risk for certain cancers.
Many plant-based meats offer a tasty alternative to processed meats like sausage and bacon in addition to other real products like burgers and chicken patties.
Plant-based meats may have more fiber.
Some, but not all, plant-based meats are made with plant ingredients that provide fiber in addition to plant-based protein.
Swapping real meat, which is devoid of fiber, for a plant-based product that contains fiber will increase your total daily fiber intake.
This swap can help you feel more satisfied while also contributing to your health by helping you meet your daily fiber needs.
People who eat the recommended amount of fiber have shown benefits to digestive health, cardiovascular health, and may even have an easier time managing their weight.
Plant-based meat may reduce your risk of foodborne illness when compared to undercooked meat.
Plant-based meat may offer a safer alternative to real meat, due to its reduced potential for bacteria that could lead to a foodborne illness.
However, this isn’t guaranteed. This is because all food products, even plant-based products, come with the risk for bacterial or other microorganism exposure. Be sure to follow safe food handling practices when preparing plant-based meat.
Plant-based meat may be more sustainable for the environment.
Plant-based meat has the advantage of being more sustainable for the environment as compared to real meat. This is related to the resources required to product real meat.
For example, plant-based meat products require less land and water usage to prepare and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Good Food Institute.
This is true no matter if plant-based meat is swapped for beef, pork, or chicken.
Plant-based meat is often highly processed.
When it comes to plant-based meat disadvantages, here’s a big one to consider.
Preparation of plant-based meat products varies widely, with some products being more highly processed than others. In general, plant-based meats are more highly processed their than real meat counterparts.
Eating a diet with majority processed foods has been linked to negative health outcomes, including weight gain and an increased risk for metabolic syndrome.
Reducing processed food intake and replacing with minimally processed foods is a beneficial practice. Consider making plant-based meat alternatives a part of your diet, but not the majority of your diet.
And instead regularly choose minimally processed plant proteins like beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Most plant-based meats are high in sodium.
Plant sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts, and others are naturally low in sodium. This fact shifts drastically when talking about plant-based meats.
Most plant-based meats have a significant amount of sodium with some products topping 600 milligrams of sodium or more per serving.
Excess sodium in the diet can have negative health consequences including increasing your risk for high blood pressure, which can have a negative effect on heart health.
On days when you plant-based meats, round out your daily sodium intake by choosing low- to moderate-sodium foods for other meals and snacks.
Some plant-based meats are high in saturated fat.
When it comes to dangers of plant-based meat, here’s one that many people don’t consider.
People often think that choosing plant-based meat alternatives will result in a lower intake of saturated fat. However, that’s not always the case as many plant-based meat brands use coconut or palm oil in their recipes.
Both coconut and palm oil are sources of saturated fat and may have a similar effect on blood lipid levels as animal-based saturated fat, though likely not as significant.
Despite this, it’s important to carefully check nutrition labels before choosing a plant-based meat if you need to keep saturated fat intake at a minimum.
The bottom line
Plant-based meat is a great alternative for real meat, especially for anyone who is looking for the taste and texture of animal products but who is looking to reduce their overall intake.
Because plant-based meat products are often highly processed, it’s best to limit how often you choose them. Focus primarily on eating
- A 2021 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology
- A 2020 study published in BMJ
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber
- A 2021 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition
- A 2020 study published in Nutrients
- A 2021 study published in Nutrients
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