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So, How Healthy Are Plant-Based Meats?

By , MD, Gastroenterologist, Virtua Gastroenterology

To Impossible and Beyond! The world has gone plant crazy. What was once a commodity only found in organic grocery stores – plant-based products are everywhere. From restaurants to big-box retailers, the popularity of plant-based meat has skyrocketed.

And for good reason. Before the days of Impossible Meat and Beyond Burger, there was this general consensus that veggie burgers tasted a bit like cardboard. Sorry veggie burger fans. But thanks to the power of food science, these new meatless burgers cook, smell, and taste like the real thing. So much so, both carnivores and herbivores alike are making the switch.

So the question begs to be asked: are plant-based products healthy?

Well, it's not so black and white. That’s why we thought we'd take a moment to break down the good, the bad, and address some common misconceptions about plant-based meats.

First things first: the good
Red meat, while undeniably delicious, has been linked to some pretty significant health issues. For starters, studies show that people who overeat processed meat are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and high cholesterol.

Another factor at play is the environment. Compared to traditional meat, plant-based production reduces greenhouse gases by about 90% while using 87% less water. Plus, the amount of land needed for raising cattle is a leading cause of deforestation. So the fewer trees lost to grazing cattle, the better for the environment.  

And now: the not-so-good
Here's the thing: plant-based burgers are heavily processed and high in saturated fats and sodium. In comparison to 85% ground meat, Impossible and Beyond Burgers are nearly identical in calories, fat, and protein.

And unfortunately, there's not a lot of natural nutrients found in these burgers. Instead, they're added through genetic modification, which sounds cool in theory but isn't exactly ideal.

Our take: both red and plant-based meat can be a part of a healthy diet. But with some simple pro tips:

  • Moderation is everything – we recommend eating no more than 12-18 ounces a week.
  • If you are going to eat red meat, avoid the processed stuff. Instead, go for organic, grass-fed beef.
  • Expand your plant-based horizons beyond the burgers. Think whole grains, veggies, fruits, and legumes.

If you’re looking for nutrition coaching for weight loss or medical nutrition therapy to cope with a health condition, Virtua’s registered dietitians can help. To schedule a consultation, call 888-847-8823.

Updated September 10, 2021

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