Is Vegan Healthy? Beyond meat, Impossible Burger and Modern Plant Based Foods
May 03, 2021 by Samuel Anthony
Modern plant based foods are on the rise but are they good for our health? Is vegan always healthy and how can whole food plant based serve greater benefits for our health than vegan meats. Let's take a look at whether Beyond meat, the impossible burger or whole foods are best for us.
Is Vegan Healthy?
Is vegan food healthy? Modern plant based foods are too diverse to answer with a blanket 'yes' or 'no'. Supermarket shelves are stacked high with plant based foods and vegan options after three of the most successful years for the vegan movement.
Many who follow the vegan diet see it as healthy and have experienced significant benefits, but no two vegan diets are the same and what food choices you make ultimately affect the health benefits you will get.
If the question is simply 'is vegan healthy' then the answer may have to be no. It may be healthier than consuming meat and dairy, but vegan foods include faux meats, sugar, chips and crisps and all manner of junk foods.
Dietary health is achieved when the foods we consume are rich in antioxidants and fibre, packed with macro (carbs, protein and good fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and limited in processed, unhealthy additives.
Healthy Vegan Diet
Is a plant based diet healthy? If we want to maximise the health benefits of a vegan diet, we need to maximise those nutritious food groups. Whole foods like broccoli and cauliflower and rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre - a clear good diet choice. However, many vegans opt for meat alternatives like Beyond meat over plant foods.
Why vegan meat is a good idea? In short, switching from a standard meat-eating diet to vegan by just removing meat is to cut calories and food sources from your diet without replacing them. We need to replace these foods and this is one of the major benefits of vegan meats. They typically offer a great nutritional replacement. But there is a catch that I'm getting to.
A healthy vegan diet far outweighs any benefits meat or dairy can provide. Many will argue that 'milk contains all the x you need' - but it also comes with nasty inflammatory compounds and does not promote healthy insides. All nutrients found in animal products originally came from grass/plants that those animals ate. Protein is found in plants. B12 is naturally found in soils. Calcium does not spontaneously generate itself in animals.
That said, vegan does not mean healthy and we can all agree that simply going vegan and eating modern plant based foods and alternative meats does not guarantee good health.
Vegan Health Benefits
Before we dive into the specific meats themselves, like Beyond meat for example, let's quickly cover the main benefits veganism can bring when followed correctly. By correctly I mean with the intention of finding better health and eating broadly across the whole food groups.
Vegan food sources contain little to no harmful clogging fats, chiefly cholesterol and trans saturated fats. If you are thrown by those terms do not worry - they are simply describing incredibly dense fats that typically gather around your major organs and line your arteries.
Plant based food sources are more likely to be whole foods (i.e. plants like tomatoes) which means more antioxidants, more fibre and more colour! Colour may sound like a strange thing to bring up when the goal is health, but it is very important as each natural colour brings about its own range of health benefits. That is because the colour pigments are usually antioxidants that our body loves. Red apples are known to be good for heart health, for example.
No pus. Yup, I said pus. Milk contains increasing levels of infected pus. Why? In order to continually produce milk, female cows go through hell. I won't turn this into a preach but in short infections around the udders mean that most milk is filled with pus. Generally not in small quantities either.
More food for better bacteria. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria - some good, some bad. Bad bacteria thrive on bad foods and continue to influence hormones and impulses to keep us latched to them. But good foods, high in fibre, are great for those good bacteria that reside within us and fibre is not found in meat/dairy.
So a vegan diet when treated right can definitely bring about health benefits. But what about these replacement meats...
Modern plant based foods and vegan meat alternatives are a common approach to replacing meat on our plates. However, despite the health claims of veganism these faux meats may not be cut out for sustaining this healthy nature.
Sugar is not part of a balanced diet. I am sorry to be the bearer of such disappointing news. I'm talking specifically about refined sugars (i.e. those not found naturally in foods we eat). For example, a banana naturally contains a sugar called fructose, but this is not refined and comes to us with fibre and antioxidants and the other parts of the banana fruit so is not harmful.
Sugar feeds bad bacteria in the gut and can cause inflammation directly. It is not naturally occurring in powdered form and therefore is not part of a natural diet. As such, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of type 2 diabetes and inflammatory diseases.
Being so delicious and addictive, they can make a product taste instantly better and because we can't get enough we buy more! Sugar is used against us by the food industry. They know that sugary foods will return customers. But the effects on our health are so detrimental.
Vegan meats and other modern plant based foods are often high in processed sugar and therefore cannot be classed as 'healthy'. However, let's look at the beyond burger.
Is Beyond Meat Healthy
Is plant-based meat healthy? Not always, but are Beyond burgers changing the game?
I have to admit, this burger took me by surprise. Processed foods are often packed with undesirable, unhealthy additives and often sugar. But Beyond burgers seem to have taken this into account...
Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein*, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Dried Yeast, Cocoa Butter, Methylcellulose, Contains 1% or Less: Potato Starch, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Beet Juice Color, Apple Extract, Pomegranate Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Vitamins and Minerals (zinc sulfate, niacinamide [vitamin B3], pyridoxine hydrochloride [vitamin B6], cyanocobalamin [vitamin B12], calcium pantothenate)
Source here accessed when article written.
This is processed and does include refined ingredients, however from a sugar and nutritional perspective this is a fantastic replacement for meat. It offers a legume based meat substitute which will deliver nutrients and fibre. Beyond burgers seem to have focused on whole foods with minimal additives.
Refined oil - or anything refined - is highly processed and removed other beneficial parts of the plant. The refined coconut oil is therefore perhaps not as beneficial as it could be.
My honest verdict is that, despite my belief that processed foods are not progressive and that whole plant foods are better, this is a genuinely good protein source with great ingredients and nutrition.
So, is Beyond meat healthy? Yes it can form part of a healthy balanced diet - in moderation - and poses no threat from sugars. However, this by no means tops unprocessed alternatives like beans, pulses and lentils.
Is Impossible Burger Healthy
Is plant-based meat healthy? So far Beyond has shown no issues aside from just being processed. But what for the impossible burger.
Let's take a look at the ingredients for the impossible burger:
Ingredients: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% Or Less Of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate, Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12. Contains: Soy
Source here accessed when article written.
Here we still have no refined sugar. Again from a processed foods perspective this contains concentrates, extracts and limited whole foods, but the lack of refined sugar is so important in separating these last two burgers from the mix of vegan meat alternatives on shelves today.
If we are honest about the processed meats, despite their lack of sugar, they are still not sufficient as a replacement for meat when compared with whole food sources like beans and pulses.
SO is vegan healthy? Yes it really can be, but let's limit those processed fatty and sugary foods and focus on whole plant based food sources.
I'm a nutritionist who is very passionate about health and fitness. If you want to elevate your diet and progress then plant based may be for you. Try a WFPB diet plan and see how you find it!
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