Plant-based diets are gaining in popularity, but unlike most food trends the reasons behind going meatless are often deeply personal and based on ethical concerns. Many people choose to go meatless for humane and environmental reasons. Others, for health benefits, religious reasons, concerns about GMOs and antibiotics, or simply personal preference. Meatless is not a fleeting trend or flavor-of-the-month like a unicorn frappucino; for many it’s a moral imperative.
Whatever the reason, the health benefits of eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are undeniable. Thus, plant-based has almost become synonymous with healthy. But what happens when plant-based doesn’t equal healthy? Is that even possible?
Unfortunately, it is. But given the amount of dollars spent marketing the healthy benefits of plant-based products, you wouldn’t guess there could be a downside. It’s important to be aware that just because a product is plant-based or marketed as meatless doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy option.
If you’re thinking of trying a plant-based lifestyle for your health, don’t make the following mistakes:
Plant-based fast food burgers have become an important part of the fast food world in America and Canada. These restaurants have discovered the importance of offering a plant-based option for those who crave the taste and convenience of a fast-foods. While technically meatless, the patty is a highly processed combination of over a dozen ingredients including GMOs. It’s very important to recognize that these meat substitutes are high in sodium, saturated fat, and calories and can’t be considered healthy. And it is prepared on the same surface as the beef burgers, unless the customer requests to have it cooked meat-free. In this case, plant-based doesn’t mean healthy or even completely meat free.
Meat substitutes have become more sophisticated since the days when the only options seemed to be bean patties in the freezer section or tofu at the health food store. Today’s mock meat offerings are meant to resemble the flavors, textures, and looks of real meat. Options include meatless beef, poultry, pork, and even fish. But the problem is that it takes a lot of ingredients to mimic the taste of meat. Mock meat is frequently packed with sodium, sugar, artificial ingredients, processed oils, preservatives, and a corresponding lack of beneficial nutrients. For the healthiest options, look for beans, legumes, quinoa, or hemp as the main ingredient. And the fewer ingredients, the better.
Plant-based desserts promise to satisfy your sweet tooth. The catch is some manufacturers tend to replace dairy and eggs with pectin, starches, and gums that can boost the sugar and calories higher than non-plant-based versions. We generally don’t expect dessert to be the healthiest part of our meal, so just be aware it may be unhealthier than you think.
Like their average chip counterpart, veggie chips tend to be fried and salted to achieve that crispy flavor profile. You might get slightly less sodium, and slightly more vitamins with veggie chips but the calorie and fat content are often similar. Just know that chips are chips, if they’re fried. Obviously, potato chips are veggies chips too, but nobody expects them to be healthy. If healthy is your objective, then try snacks that pack a crunch as well as nutrients - check out roasted chickpeas or green peas.
Sometimes people think going meatless is as simple as leaving the meat out of your favorite recipes and filling up on your other non-meat foods. That approach can have unintended consequences; it can lead to overconsumption of refined carbs, sugary beverages, and sweets. Sure, extra pasta, breads, soda, or veggie pizza may be both filling and meatless, but that doesn’t equate to healthy. The refined sugars can lead to a feeling of hunger that prompts overeating. Refined sugars have been linked to obesity, heart disease, mood disorders, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. And by simply leaving out the meat, you need to recognize that you’re leaving out a primary source of protein. A healthy plant-based diet includes plant-based proteins and avoids refined sugars. It well worth your time to consult specialty vegetarian or vegan cookbooks so that you can remove the meat, but still ensure that protein levels are appropriate for good, balanced nutrition.
No matter why you’ve chosen to go meatless, it’s important to ensure that your diet is properly planned. You want to make sure that you’re being true to your guiding values, but also ensure that you’re getting the proper nutrients you need to be very healthy.