A store clerk shows plant based products at a supermarket chain in Brussels, Oct. 23, 2020. Many meat alternatives are higher in sodium than regular meat, says Dr. W. Gifford-Jones. (File photo by The Associated Press)

A store clerk shows plant based products at a supermarket chain in Brussels, Oct. 23, 2020. Many meat alternatives are higher in sodium than regular meat, says Dr. W. Gifford-Jones. (File photo by The Associated Press)

What steak lovers should know about plant-based meats

We live at a time of growing choices regarding food substitutes. But how good are these new products when compared with the old staples? Think of margarine versus butter. Or more recently plant-based meats versus the real McCoy? Was William Shakespeare right when he wrote, “A substitute shines brightly as a King, until a King be by”?

A report from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University provides plenty to chew on. Deciding what to do isn’t just a personal decision. It also involved implications for our planet.

According to researchers at Tufts, sales of meat alternatives increased 30 per cent in 2018. This increase is expected to continue since plant-based, meatless “meat” has become available at several fast-food outlets. But how good are these products?

Nicole Negowetti, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic, says, “These new plant-based meat products are designed to replicate the taste, texture and chemical composition of meat.”

The point is, producers of these new foods are trying to fool us. They want consumers to have the impression they are eating meat, when in fact they are not. As Negowetti says, whether it’s meat from a cow, pig, or any other animal, meat is muscle which is essentially protein and some fat. Meatless manufacturers are extracting these proteins and fats from plants and combining them to mimic the characteristics of animal meat.

It sounds simple, but there is more to the story. Nicole Blackstone, assistant professor in the Friedman School’s Division of Agriculture, Food and Environment warns, some of these meatless products are so highly processed that they bear no resemblance to their sourced plant foods. Particularly those produced manufactured on a large scale are often highly processed and include in novel components.

For instance, to achieve the colour and meatiness that blood gives to red meat, producers have found a way to grow heme iron in soy plants. This is the type of iron found in meat and an essential element of blood production. So, what about the health risks of this scientific replication? For the moment Blackstone says we don’t know the answer.

We do know that beef-mimicking hamburgers are similar in calories and protein and lower in saturated fats. However, many meat alternatives are higher in sodium than regular meat. Higher sodium intake can lead to higher blood pressure, causing hypertension.

There is one major benefit to eating substitute meat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six North Americans develops food poisoning every year from a variety of food products. Unlike regular meat, substitute meats are far less frequently the cause of E. coli or Salmonella infection. In addition, manufacturers do not have to add antibiotics to these products that can trigger superbug antibiotic resistance. Nor do these products contain hormones.

Negowetti says, “The key question is, can substitute meat products be the tool to help people decrease their intake of real meat? Global red meat consumption is increasing, and factory farming of animals is known to be devastating to animal welfare and environmental sustainability. I am calling for a broader interpretation of ‘healthy’ to include planetary health.”

Different studies and producers report that a typical meatless hamburger uses 75-99 per cent less water and has about a 90 per cent smaller carbon footprint compared to a regular burger. According to a Nielsen survey, 62 per cent of North Americans say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein.

Negowetti claims the bottom line is that people will buy alternative meat products if they are delicious and cheap. This would also benefit out planet.

What would Shakespeare say today? Possibly, “A substitute shines brightly as a King, even when a King pass by.”

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones can be reached at contact-us@docgiff.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A Suncor logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Body of worker whose bulldozer fell through ice on inactive tailings pond recovered

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilpatch giant Suncor says the body of a… Continue reading

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

nunavut
‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

Most Read