VEGAN & VEGETARIAN MEAT SUBSTITUTES AND THE POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS OF THESE FOOD TYPES
Generally speaking, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles can be extremely healthy when eating a plant-based diet full of wholefoods, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes etc. Recently, however, there has been an influx of a wide variety of new vegan and vegetarian processed products that do not provide consumers with all of the health benefits you might expect from adhering to a meat-free diet. It is important to ensure that you read the back of the package to really understand what is packed into these faux meat processed foods that may negatively impact on consumer’s health.
As the demand for vegan and vegetarian food across the globe continues to rise, so too does the creation of meat alternatives or faux meat products in both the supermarkets and across the retail food and hospitality sector. The global market for meat replacement products is FORECASTED TO REACH $140 BILLION BY 2029. Dietary preferences, ethical reasons, religious dietary laws and supporting more environmentally sustainable food production have all lead to the surge in faux meat and an increased focus from food manufacturing companies around the world to find the “next-best” vegan meat-substitute product.
Whilst the amount of pork-free bacon, tofu-based sausages and other so-called ‘Faux Meats’ on Australian supermarket shelves is booming and restaurants and all Fast Food majors are coming up with their own rendition of the ‘Ultimate Whopper’, new research has found that eating these foods could pose significant health risks.
This type of food is far from new with meat substitutes dating back to the creation of tofu, in conjunction with Buddhist cuisine, during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) in China. Equally in Medieval Europe during the Christian observance of Lent, the consumption of meat from warm-blooded animals and animal products was forbidden and alternatives were created to meet the needs of the people.
Thanks to developments in food technology, new ‘fake meat’ has become uncannily realistic in both texture and appearance, perhaps contributing to the surge in trial and adoption in the mainstream F&B retail market. Traditional Chinese faux meats tended to be made from tofu, mushrooms and other commonly available ingredients, whereas some of the new faux meats “are manufactured with possibly unhealthy additives” and this is where the huge and ever-growing enthusiasm for faux meat becomes somewhat tricky.
Whilst choosing to eat a more plant-based diet is ultimately a good thing, these retail fast food meal choices and pre-packaged goods are still classified as processed foods and exhibit similar traits to other processed foods in the market. It is important to question and to understand that not all vegan/vegetarian faux meat is created equal and some are fully processed, manufactured and therefore contains a cacophony of chemicals to make it all work.
TBHQ is a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. The FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in foods because studies of laboratory animals have found an association with TBHQ and cancer.
Remember when some bread was accused of having a yoga mat chemical? Well, magnesium carbonate, used in foods to retain colour, is also used in flooring, fireproofing, and fire-extinguishing compounds.
Erythosine (Red #3).
Red #3 is an artificial food colouring. The FDA banned the use of Red #3 in cosmetic products in 1990 after high doses of the substance were linked to cancer. But it can still be used in foods, like fake meat.
Propylene glycol is an odourless, colourless liquid used as a moisturiser. It’s also used as a liquid in e-cigarettes and is the primary ingredient in antifreeze.
Also called iron phosphate, this chemical is used to fortify foods. It can also be used as a pesticide to kill slugs and snails. While generally considered safe (for people) in food in small quantities, it can be a skin and eye irritant and may cause an upset stomach.
Thanks to clever marketing, when something says ‘plant-based’ or low in something, we have the image in our heads that it’s healthier for you, because it’s made from plants, but what we don’t realise and what it doesn’t say on the front of the pack, is that it still contains the same unhealthy amount of salt, fat, sugars and chemicals of other processed food products. Manufacturers are adding higher levels of these ingredients to these products for many reasons, but the main reason is to create taste!
AFTER ALL, VEGGIE BURGERS DON’T GROW IN THE GROUND,
THEY ARE MADE IN FACTORIES.
It is also worth noting that with the recent short innovation period of these new faux products, means that their long term effects on human digestion are relatively untested at this early stage of the product development lifecycle and a percentage of the population may still have unforeseen adverse reactions to these types of processed foods.
Creating the taste and mouthfeel of real beef in a plant-based product is extremely difficult to achieve without the use of chemicals, artificial flavours and additives. But if you choose to eat these products regularly as a substitute to the meat-based versions, you may also want to consider what nutrients might then be missing from your diet, such as Iron and B Vitamins that these products might not have enough of, or any at all.
Overall, the most pressing question raised by faux meats is not why they aren’t better or healthier for you, but why the meat items that they are choosing to imitate are themselves so highly processed and poor in quality (hotdogs, pies/sausage rolls, burgers, chicken nuggets etc.)
There is clearly a market out there for faux meat products and plant based foods to service the ever growing vegetarian and vegan population, however it has become evident that more needs to be done to help ensure the very people who are striving to eat better, are actually capable of achieving their food consumption objectives.
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