By Corina Tan
With plant-based diets being all the rage, how much do we know about meatless meat and what it’s made of? Plant-based meat is available in a variety of forms from burgers, meatballs, sausages, nuggets and luncheon meats. Gone are the days where meat substitutes were tasteless and rubbery. These days, meatless plant-based meats can mimic the look, flavour and texture very convincingly. Newer varieties taste more like the real deal than ever, with versions of chicken, beef, lamb, pork and even deli meats. Meatless meats are no longer just for vegetarians. Many people around the world have chosen alternatives to meat for a variety of reasons including religious beliefs, animal rights, health and environmental causes. Whatever the reasons are, it’s important to know what is in these mock meat products and if they are really a healthier choice.
Common base components include soy, peas, beans, mushrooms, wheat gluten, coconut oil and rice. The newer, more meat-like products that are made by large companies, tend to be more processed and have more ingredients like oil to give them a juicy texture, and starch or cellulose as thickening and binding agents. This means that just because something is plant-based does not mean it is healthy. Most imitation meat is highly processed, contains high amount of sodium and saturated fat, but with red meat linked to diseases like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, people are looking at meatless meat now more than ever before. If meatless meat can help people stick to a plant-based diet, that, in-itself, can lead to better health in the long run. Studies show that people who ditch red meat have lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, lower average blood sugar, and lower cholesterol levels. They also need less medication to treat pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Studies also show that plant-based proteins generate significantly less greenhouse gas compared to real meat equivalents.
The meat-free movement is now causing its demand to soar with retail sales hitting 7 billion USD in 2020. What’s more, analysts don’t expect the demand to slow down anytime soon. A 2021 Bloomberg intelligent report predicts that this meatless meat market will skyrocket to a whopping 74 billion USD by 2030. Even fast-food companies around the world have started to jump on the bandwagon with Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, White Castle, Pizza Hut and McDonalds working to create meatless meat options on their menu. Even KFC is said to be working on a perfect faux chicken that’s as ‘finger-lickin’-good’ as the original.
For the very health conscious, it would be wise to consider alternate meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, portabella mushrooms, or homemade patties from whole grains and vegetables. Beans and lentils are also great protein substitutes which are nutritious, inexpensive and far more sustainable than any of the processed meatless meats on the market today.