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IS VEGAN FAKE MEAT WORTH THE HYPE? REASONS YOU MAY WANT TO LIMIT FAKE MEAT IN YOUR DIET

Mya Care Guest Blogger 26 Jan 2020
IS VEGAN FAKE MEAT WORTH THE HYPE? REASONS YOU MAY WANT TO LIMIT FAKE MEAT IN YOUR DIET

Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments, and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.

If you want to shed some pounds, help save the planet and stop supporting animal cruelty, becoming vegan seems like a pretty good deal; especially with the invention of fake meat. In spite of all the hype, fake meat and veganism may not be entirely what they seem however.

In the below article, we would like to clarify some of the myths revolving around what it means to be vegan, if going vegan is healthy and if you should consider including fake animal products - particularly fake meat - in your diet as a substitute.

Veganism as It Currently Stands

For those who have chosen to consume a vegan diet, it often comes with more than just avoiding animal products. Veganism has evolved into a lifestyle of its own; a way of life that aims to ethically support all life on planet Earth and do away with anything that causes harm to the environment or that is at heart, unethical.

Veganism has recently boomed in popularity. In spite of it's primarily ethical focus, people have different reasons for becoming vegan. The main three reasons are as follows:

  • To put an end to animal cruelty
  • To preserve the environment
  • To better one's health

Naturally, it is being marketed as "the right thing to do," especially for the above three reasons; however, being a vegan does not automatically mean that any of those outcomes are guaranteed.

Of course, for every person who adopts the lifestyle, the demand for meat consumption drops and therefore less animals are raised in captivity - yet there is still a huge demand for meat on the planet overall.

Aside from enjoying meat and other animal products, many feel that consuming these products have health benefits that outweigh the unethical nature of their production. This means that until the overwhelming majority of people on Earth decide they no longer want to eat meat or consume animal products, they are likely to still be produced. This is essentially the logic behind the current vegan revolution we now see occurring on the planet.

Where Fake Meat Comes Into the Equation

In line with the vegan revolution, food technologists and scientists have teamed up to produce vegan animal products, including fake meat. Everything from beef burger patties to chicken strips to dairy products have been recreated without involving animals or cruelty for vegans and meat-eaters everywhere to enjoy. The products taste and look nearly identical to their animal-sourced counter parts, minus the cruelty factor. In some cases, top chefs have even battled to discern the difference!

Sounds great, doesn't it? Fake meat certainly helps those who love their meat but chose to become vegan for any of the above reasons. However, in contradiction to popular belief, fake meat may not be that healthy for us or at least as healthy as regular meat consumption.

How is Fake Meat Made?

Before we get into the reasons fake meat may not be that healthy for you or the environment, let's take a look at how it's produced.

In general, there are two types of fake meat: plant-based fake meat and lab grown meat.

The latter is actually meat on a chemical level, but as it was synthetically 'grown' fiber by fiber in a test tube and not produced by killing any animals, it is a lot more ethical. Technically lab grown meat is not vegan, however it certainly fulfils the cruelty-free requirements and would satisfy the needs of some people who made a purely ethical choice to abstain from meat. However, it is not without ethical hang ups - stem cells are still required from the animal in question so that scientists can grow meat tissue. We'll discuss this in further detail in the section below.

Plant-based "meat," on the other hand, is made using plant proteins - often pea and soy isolates - that are stretched out continuously until they bulk up together and form fibrous strands. With the addition of multiple plant-based flavor enhancers, emulsifiers and other functional ingredients, these fibrous strands emulate the texture and flavor of meat. Through doctoring with additional proteins, food technologists have managed to find ways to get the finished product to cook like meat too.

Some of the flavorful proteins added to fake meat are identical to proteins found in cooked meat, yet they are produced by genetically modified bacteria and yeasts instead of from animals.[1]

An example includes LegHemoglobin, a molecule that is nearly identical to hemoglobin and myoglobin, two of the main compounds in meat that flavors it. LegHemoglobin was initially sourced from the roots of legumes like soy, but Impossible Foods - the company that invented the Impossible Burger - have found a way to mass produce it via genetically altering yeast.[2]

Other commonly added additions to fake meat include canola oil and other hydrogenated plant-based fats, wheat or gluten, plant cellulose, nutritional yeasts and mushroom extracts.

6 Reasons You May Want To Limit Fake Meat In Your Diet

If you want to substitute meat in your diet with fake meat, here are some reasons you may want to rethink that idea.

Safety Studies Are Lacking

We don't actually know what the long term consequences of eating fake meat or lab-grown meat are for humans. The tests that have been carried out to-date are at best testing the effects consuming fake meat has on lab rats for a maximum of 28 days[3]. Scientists have fed these rats proportionally much larger doses than if scaled up to what the average person would eat of these products and has given the best estimate for safety margins in this regard.

It's important to remember that many currently banned products were initially tested in this manner and proven safe only for short-term toxicity; prior to their being banned due to later findings that show long-term adverse health effects. One needs to ask if they are willing to take that risk and face any later consequences that may arise, if any.

Cooking, Trans-Fats and Cholesterol

Many fake meat products have incorporated the use of plant-based fats to emulate the fat content in meat. However, many of these fats are hydrogenated (trans-fats), meaning that they will enhance bad 'LDL' cholesterol and contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.[4] Sunflower oil and canola are particular offenders in this regard.

Moreover, they are very high in omega-6 fats. If one does not consume enough omega-3s to balance the ratio of omega3 to omega6, there is an increased tendency for bodily inflammation - also not a positive thing in connection with cardiovascular disease risk.

Even if the fats used were healthier, the moment one cooks it - especially in more oils - the fats will oxidize and change into trans-fats. Olive oil and coconut oil are known amongst dieticians as the best oils to cook with as they have high burning points and promote a healthier cholesterol profile in the body.

Additives, Binders and Fillers

Many additives, binders and fillers in general get a bad rap for increasing gut irritation, especially in those who suffer from IBD and other similar gut diseases. Some of the main ingredients adopted by vegan food producers that help to bind and mimic animal products include carrageenan (common vegan dairy additive) and methylcellulose (found in Beyond Meat[5]). These ingredients are both used in scientific experiments to induce an experimental model of Crohn's Disease in rats, due to the high levels of gut inflammation they are known to create![6] 

Therefore, if you chose to become vegan because of your gut issues fake meat may not be the best substitute. Rather consult with a healthcare professional about your diet and agree upon an IBS-friendly diet plan.

Another common additive to fake meat, like the beyond burger, includes high-glucose ingredients such as maltodextrin. Maltodextrin has a higher glycemic index value than actual sugar. It is generally regarded as safe by the FDA, however when consumed daily and in excess, it can contribute to multiple health conditions due to the way it spikes our blood sugar levels. These include: hypertension, diabetes, gut diseases, metabolic syndrome, obesity, etc.[7]

Soy Protein, Estrogens and Hormonal Balance

Fake meat is often based off soy proteins. Soy is very high in estrogens, which can wreck our hormonal balance if consumed in excessive quantities. For the same reasons, beer can give prolific drinkers excess fat in undesirable places. Men especially need to watch out as consuming too much estrogen can cause them to develop breasts.

If you have a hormonal imbalance already, then you ought to consult with your healthcare provider about what foods you ought to avoid to keep your hormones in check.

Lab-Grown Meat Ethics

For those of you who would opt for lab-grown meat products in order to make the morally right choice, then there's a few things you should consider about lab-grown meat before consuming it.[8]

Firstly, to create the meat, samples of stem cells are required from the animal in question. Even a tiny amount of tissue is enough, however it still violates the animal's rights as they have no way to let us know if we can consensually do that to them (even if painless). The way in which this is carried out, how these animals are housed and if they are compensated for their contribution to benefiting man are also ethical concerns in this regard.

To be fair about the future of lab-grown meat, scientists may figure out a way around this concern, such as getting bacteria to produce the stem cells required to grow meat.[9]

Ultimately, it does little harm, but supports an unethical mindset that places man above the natural world - the same mindset that allows for the mindless destruction of the environment (through deforestation, pollution, etc) purely for the advancement and pleasure of man.

These ethical concerns are for you to make what you will of them and each of the arguments have counter-arguments that are just as valid.

Meat Aside: Is Veganism Healthy?

Veganism is as healthy (or unhealthy) as you make it.

Any good nutritionist or dietician will tell you that being vegan does not ensure health in much the same way that any diet would. The whole perception that most vegetarians don't get enough nutrition was grounded in some truth, after all, yet you will find that many meat-eaters have nutritional deficiencies as well.[10]

The trick to being healthy revolves around leading an active lifestyle, consuming a wide variety of healthy (unrefined) foods plus watching your salt, sugar, alcohol and fat intake. You can be vegan while consuming lots of junk food, hone in on a dismal variety of vegetables and spend most of your time sitting - none of those things will do your health a favor!

On a side note, the majority of those who are vegan do tend to make a bigger effort to be health conscious than their meat-eating counterparts.[11] This is perhaps where the confusion set in.

It's true that excessive meat consumption can be toxic[12] and is associated with many chronic diseases, including colon cancer[13], as it increases bodily inflammation - especially meat that comes from animals that are unethically treated and modified prior to slaughter. Antibiotics, synthetic hormones and the levels of stress in the majority of farmed animals have an effect on the quality of the animal products that originate from them.

For many people, cutting out animal products is a step in a far healthier direction. However, not all animals are farmed unethically and some people have managed to remain perfectly healthy through eating a wide variety of plant-based food alongside meat[14] (in moderate amounts) that is farmed in a healthy fashion; i.e. free range, grass fed, organic and GMO-free fed, antibiotic and hormone free, etc.

Animal products do appear to increase bad 'LDL' cholesterol, regardless of their source and hence, eating them in excess amounts is not healthy. This is because, once cooked, the fats in the meat (and the frying pan) transform into hydrogenated fats or trans-fats, which clog our arteries. On this note, if you were vegan and deep fried all your food (even in plant-based fats) or consumed excessive levels of oily fake meats, you would be doing the same thing to yourself.

In this respect, if you wanted to be 100% healthy, a nutritionist would advise you to balance your consumption of raw and cooked foods, consume a wide variety (think rainbow!), as well as moderate the amount and type of fat you use.

Conclusion

While food technologists are still getting their act together to perfect fake meat for the vegans who miss regular meat, there is a point to be made here about moderation.

As it currently stands, both fake meat and regular meat are only healthy if eaten in moderation (at your own risk) or not at all. People who have a family history of or who suffer from chronic bowel disorders or heart problems should probably avoid both fake and regular meat. Regardless of whether you consume either of these products or not, everyone should be consuming a wide variety of wholesome fruits and vegetables to maintain optimal health.

If you have questions regarding fake meat, make sure to ask your doctor. Regardless wherever you are across the world, consider researching online on Mya Care to find a dietitian or nutritionist who may be a good fit for your dietary requirements. 

Source:

  • [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827462/
  • [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5813221/
  • [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5956568/
  • [4] https://openheart.bmj.com/content/5/2/e000871
  • [5] https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13881-beyond-burger-needs-multiple-ingredients-to-mimic-meat
  • [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5410598/
  • [7] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322426.php#alternatives
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4419201/
  • [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6078906/
  • [10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6584749/
  • [11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521004/
  • [12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23660174
  • [13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4472216/
  • [14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/

 

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