Fake Meat: A solution or a problem?

When it comes to eating meat, there is growing uncertainty around how sustainable meat is as a primary food source. The massive global population means creating meat-based food sources for our populace is challenging. In many countries, finding supply to meet demand means finding ways to get meat on the market quicker. This can sometimes mean products reaching the market before it would be ideal.

Along with the potential health risks of a high-meat diet, this has left many searching for alternatives. This includes the use of ‘fake meat’ – substitute products made from non-meat such as soya, beans, tofu, and other alternatives. They are often sold as ‘healthy’ alternatives to eating meat without having to give up the flavour and texture that meat provides.

Protein is known to be an essential part of our diet, and fake meats tend to replace animal proteins with proteins from other backgrounds. Often, though, these come from sources that might not be any better for our bodies than real meat. Most fake meat products tend to contain a growing list of synthetic ingredients you would not find in a real meat product.

What is in fake meat that makes it a potential problem?

For example, it is common for fake meat products to be made using additives. These additives, such as cultured dextrose, tend to contribute to high blood sugar. This is due to the presence of high carbohydrate counts. Cultured dextrose is made by fermenting glucose with a specific probiotic, Propionibacterium freudenreichii,derived from dairy products.

Corn is also a common resource for fake meats; however, in the US especially, up to nine-tenths of the corn eaten is genetically modified. Those looking to eat fake meat products because they are ‘natural’ and ‘pure’ usually find out this is not the case.

It is also extremely common for fake meats to have significant quantities of soy. Soy is one of the most commonly found food allergens in the world and can play a role in suppressing thyroid functions. Soy is often used as an alternative to gluten, but our bodies can often confuse the two, leading to gluten-like reactions when eating soy. Soy also is linked with limiting our bodies ability to consume iodine. Soy is also a common GMO product, especially in America.

Speaking of gluten, many fake meat products use gluten as a stabilizing agent. Gluten is linked with all manner of potential health issues, including leaky gut. Even if a product is listed as gluten-free, it can still contain as much as 20 parts per million of gluten in a single serving. Over time, that builds up.

Fake meat: does it at least reduce fat and cholesterol?

Even with all of the above, it could be argued that eating fake meat at least reduces fat and cholesterol intake. However, the secret comes from eating the right quality of meat. Yes, cheap meats are often rich in fat and cholesterol. Quality, lean red meats can be trimmed of their excess fat and thus do not bring the cardiovascular health risks that we might find in advertisements about the risk of eating meat.

On top of that, real meat tends to contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for our body – as well as a healthy helping of iodine. Fake meat, by contrast, tends to be missing essential fatty acids and lacking vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found within animal proteins.

Fake meat products are also high in sodium – a fake meat patty can contain many milligrams of sodium, often more than you would get in the meat itself. Most of the time, the high sodium content in a meat-based meal comes from the sides and toppings that we use as opposed to the meat itself.

Fake meat: at least it saves the environment, right?

One of the most common arguments for using fake meat is that it can help the environment. There are justifiable and understandable concerns about the environmental impact of mass meat cultivation. However, many of the products found in fake meat – such as pea proteins and canola oil – tend to be high contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. They also use up significant amounts of land and energy.

Is fake meat as damaging to the environment as cut-and-thrust farming practices? Most likely not. However, the vaunted claims of environmental purity are often wide of the mark – as are claims about fake meat being healthier for our bodies than quality real meats. That is the essential difference here: quality.

The benefits can outweigh the cons if you eat proper, well-cared-for meat from organic sources that care for their animals. Fake meat is definitely on the market but as a 100% beneficial alternative to real meat? That is yet to be proven.