One of the biggest health trends across America lately is swapping out real meat for fake meat, especially as plant-based meat alternatives gain popularity and are found in more grocery stores. Beyond being just trendy, people are choosing meat alternatives for the sake of their health and their environmental impact.
Here’s a comparison of plant-based meat alternatives and real meat to help you make the most well-informed decisions for your protein needs.
What Are Fake Meats Made Of?
There is no industry standard for what constitutes a “fake meat,” and some people will argue that the word “meat” shouldn’t be used at all for non-animal-based products. Today’s alternative meat products are often plant-based proteins that combine protein extracted from a plant with other plant ingredients. Examples are the popular Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers that you’ll find in the grocery store. Common protein sources in fake meats include soybeans, mushrooms, lentils, and wheat gluten.
Meanwhile, other alternative meat products are made by extracting an animal cell and growing it in a lab. These more experimental products are called cell-based meat, with examples being Memphis Meats and JUST Meat.
Health Comparison of Fake Meat vs. Real Meat
If you compare the calories between fake meats and real meats, you’ll find that plant-based meats are generally lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol. These are important things to know when you are watching your diet. By sticking to plant-based meats, you may also be able to avoid exposure to antibiotics that are overused in the traditional meat industry.
However, the problem with some fake meats is their highly processed ingredients, such as soy protein isolate and modified food starch. The sodium content of fake meat can be higher than in traditional meat, so it’s important to check product labels so you aren’t accidentally consuming more salt than you need.
The Environmental Impacts of Fake Meat and Real Meat
Many people also make the switch the fake meat to lessen their environmental impact, which is something worth learning about. Studies show that many plant-based meat products use less land, water, and fuel emissions than meat produced in traditional agriculture. However, the production of cell-based meat products still uses substantial emissions, so these products aren’t as easy on the environment.
Choosing Reliable Sources for Your Protein Needs
To bring a sense of balance to the fake meat vs. real meat debate, many people are choosing to try a “flexitarian” diet that includes a bit of both options. By incorporating plant-based meat into a couple meals per week, you can easily reduce your red meat consumption without feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day. Reduced red meat consumption has been linked to better heart health and cholesterol levels.
However, plant-based meats still cannot necessarily compete with healthy and natural protein sources, such as fish packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Remember that “fake meat” is a generic term, and each one of these products is unique in terms of their ingredients and health benefits. Compare product labels closely and choose alternative meats that are a good source of fiber, low in saturated fat, low in sodium, and high in protein. Ultimately, the best option for many people is to replace less healthy and ethically sourced meats with plant-based proteins while continuing to keep lean and nutrient-rich protein sources their diet, such as sustainably produced chicken, turkey and fish.