There’s a buzz about plant-based food, and I just wanted to know your opinion on what companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers are doing. Would you encourage such products, which are extruded? Thank you.
From a health perspective, the first and most important thing to understand is that these are not whole plant foods, and they are not good options for people who want to eat an optimally healthy and wholesome plant-based diet for their health. They are highly processed plant foods and are not that different than many other such plant food offerings in the vegan mock-meat and mock-dairy sections of the grocery stores that have been around for years before them. The main concerns associated with them include but are not limited to, containing highly processed ingredients, containing GMO ingredients, being high in sodium, containing oils, and containing other additives and modified plant food ingredients.
From sustainability and animal welfare perspectives, they can be excellent options for people who want to eat plant-based for the animals or the environment, or who just want to cut down on meat. In fact, they can be considered better health options too for those in that latter group who want to replace some of the meat in their diet. The increasing presence and availability of these plant-meats make it very easy for people to have a meat-alternative that looks and tastes like meat, without all of the health, environmental, and other downsides associated with meat. In an ideal world, everyone would eat whole plant foods, but until then, we need transition products such as these plant-meats to help people move away from their strong reliance on and addiction to meat.
The most important thing to do if one is considering any such foods is always to read all the ingredient lists to determine how real and whole or how processed and refined it is. Then, it is a matter of assessing them based on your personal health standards and priorities. What are you comfortable eating? People who prioritize whole plant foods for optimal health will not put any such processed food products in their bodies. In contrast, others who are not that concerned or informed about nutrition or those who feel that eating such foods outweighs the cons of eating animal meats may be completely fine with choosing these foods.
Here are the ingredient lists for the burgers from these companies:
Impossible Burger Ingredients: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
The Impossible brand also acknowledges using genetically modified (GM) ingredients, namely the soy protein and the soy leghemoglobin. It also uses a wide range of synthetic vitamins and minerals to fortify it nutritionally.
Beyond Meat Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Pomegranate Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Beet Juice Extract (for color).
The Beyond Meat brand, on the other hand, is soy-free, GMO-free, and gluten-free. The burgers are based on processed peas, mung beans, and rice, and also do not contain any peanuts or tree nuts for those who are prone to any such allergies.
In the end, Beyond Meat is definitely a better option from a health perspective, but ultimately both burgers and other mock-meat products are highly processed foods. Their advantages and efficacy come from providing substantial environmental and ethical benefits over all meat food products. And, like any other processed food, the health problems and risks do not come from trying these items once or having them on some rare occasion, if that is necessary or desirable. The most problems and increasing health risks arise when such foods become a habit and create the totality of a processed plant-based diet, along with other processed plant foods.
As long as one is not seeking a food product that literally looks and tastes like meat, the ideal thing to do for those who enjoy various “patties” and “burgers” is to learn how to make some of your favorite flavor and texture combos at home using whole plant foods. Homemade bean, veggie, grain, nut, seed, and mushroom patties of all kinds can be easily made at home, and they can be frozen for quick and convenient future meals. They make great meals to travel with because they are easy and convenient to pack as food “to go” whether for a school or work lunch or meal for any type of trip. They can be eaten on their own as snacks; they can be eaten on or alongside various veggie salads and soups; they can be eaten with all kinds of wholesome plant-based sauces and spreads; and they can accompany healthy bread products, such as Food for Life Ezekiel bread and buns (available mostly in North America).
In summary, both Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers and plant-meat products may be part of a vegan diet or a general or partial plant-based diet, but they are not part of a whole food, plant-based diet.