From grocery stores, to high-end restaurants and even fast-food menus, plant-based proteins are showing up everywhere. While these products were initially hailed for providing alternative sources of protein to those who cannot, or chose not to eat animals, these products are not facing increasing scrutiny from a variety of critics. Popular brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible have been around for years, but now they have officially gone mainstream in 2019 with national chains like Burger King, McDonalds and even KFC jumping on the bandwagon.
As these products become more ubiquitous, it’s not surprising that people who are not on board with the trend, including the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle, have become more vocal about why so called fake meats may not be so deserving of the praise they are receiving. Here is the down-low about the criticism against this wildly popular new food.
It is not healthier than real meat
Most would assume that a vegetarian product is full of vegetables, has few calories and less fat but that is not always the case. When it comes to evaluating the relative health of a product, most nutritionists look past buzzwords and take the time to thoroughly examine labels.
Most of these products have more saturated fat and sodium than animal proteins like lean beef or turkey. Take for example Burger King – the whopper patty (just the patty, no toppings, bun etc) has 240 calories with 18g of fat, 20g or protein and 230 mg of sodium. A Beyond Meat burger has 250 calories with the same 18g of fat, 20g of protein and 370 mg of sodium. Bottom line on this one is that they are remarkably similar in macro nutrient content so if you are watching your calories overall, the meatless variety wouldn’t be any better for you than a regular burger.
They are not always vegan
Hardcore vegans and vegetarians have been made aware that food prepared in restaurant kitchens may likely come into contact with animal products unless the restaurant keeps strict prepping boundaries. Burger King’s Impossible burger is grilled on the same broiler as its beef and chicken patties, so it is contaminated with animal product.
Less fresh produce, more processed fillers
There are more than 20 ingredients in the basic patties offered by both Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. While those ingredients are ‘derived’ from plants, most of them are not recognizable by name and 20 is a lot considering a homemade burger patty might only have one ingredient: ground beef. Even a burger patty from McDonalds has just beef, salt and pepper as it’s ingredients. Even the CEO of Whole Foods, who stands to profit from this plant-based protein trend, believes that many of these products are over processed.
For now, we can say that the meatless trend is clearly here to stay, but consumers should be aware of the ingredients and be wary of many of the claims to health improvement or weight loss as a benefit. Unless you are vegan for ethical or medical reasons, you may just be better off asking ‘where’s the beef’.