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Mock Meat Shakedown: Are ‘Plant-based Meats’ Healthy?


Living off of frozen veggie burgers is certainly one way to do things. In fact, it’s almost as if it comes right along with the initial territory of making the switch from a meat to a plant-based diet. But it’s not the only way. And, as is the case with any processed food consumption, it’s not the best way. Yes, it’s convenient; however, the trouble with frozen meat substitutes comes in many shapes and sizes.

Still, if you are going to go that route — because who doesn’t love a quick fix after a long day — there are things to look out for to ensure you aren’t doing your body more harm than good by consuming such products. Here are a few key concerns that should act as deciding factors when selecting a prefabricated frozen meat substitute to heat up for dinner.

Genetically Modified Soy: In recent years, the threat of GMOs has been ringing more loudly and clear than ever before. And soy is one of the leaders of the pack, right up there on the front line with corn. If it’s not organic and/or verified as non-GMO, then the soy — soy protein concentrate or isolate — that makes up the bulk of your cuisine is most likely genetically modified, bringing with it numerous health threats. Thankfully, products that are organic/non-GMO are becoming quicker to differentiate themselves as such, so you know what you are getting yourself into.

Too Much Sodium: Yes, you need some salt, but frozen foods are notorious for raking in high amounts of sodium, and frozen meat substitutes are no exception, especially those soy-based options. For example:

  • A serving size of Boca’s crumbles contains 270mg of sodium.
  • Boca’s Vegan—made with non-GMO soy—Burger packs 470mg of sodium.

The lesson here is simple. Even if it looks good as far as GMOs go, it’s important to assess the amount of sodium in comparison to the serving size. No one uses just one serving of crumbles for an entire pot of chili or spaghetti after all—no one.

Fillers: The longer the ingredient list, the more room there is for unwanted entities to sneak into the mix. The most popular being those of the corn and wheat varieties. As with soy, unless these items are noted as being organic/non-GMO verified, you’d best assume that they are questionable, if not immediately guilty as charged. As a rule of thumb, it’s always great to start with the last line of any ingredient list to see if it’s even worth considering —meaning the allergen statement that reads something like, “contains milk, wheat, soy and egg ingredients.” Still, this isn’t the end all be all. Careful reading of the entire label should be done prior to consuming any meat substitute, or any food for that matter.

Egg Whites: When it comes to veggie burgers, unless it flat out reads “vegan,” chances are if you flip over the package at hand, even brands you may have assumed to be vegan on behalf of a “dairy-free” claim, have ingredients used as binders, one of these being egg whites. Not to point fingers, but my once favorite black bean burgers by MorningStar Farms are a prime example of this. The same goes for newer products to hit the shelves. When Quorn came onto the market launching an array of meat alternatives, I grew ecstatic over the range of products to try, until I noted they contained egg whites. Once again, this is where reading the entire list comes into play. This concern is not one that is limited to frozen mock meats. The same concern is true when dining out. Just because you see “veggie burger” on the menu at a restaurant, before you get too excited, be sure to inquire whether or not any animal ingredients are used. Although by 2013 one might suggest that it should, veggie doesn’t automatically translate to vegan.

Standout Frozen Fauxs: Since the dawn of veggie burgers, there have been many more frozen meat substitute alternatives to hit the shelves, and the vast majority aren’t even burgers at all. While still processed, many longstanding and newer companies are seeking to provide increased nutritional benefits offering products ranging from chick’n strips to nuggets and beyond. A growing number are even producing substitutes that are plant-based yet entirely soy-free. When it comes to standout frozen fauxs that are deserving of a shout out, the following are what I consider to be the top two finishers — that is, my top two picks of brands currently in the freezer department.

  1. Gardein: Garden + Protein = Gardein. For starters, Gardein’s products are made with non-GMO soy and wheat. And when it comes to taste and consistency and not to mention ease of preparation, these products are grade A. Their wide variety of products from beefless tips to chick’n strips, makes them a suitable substitute for many dishes. Plus Gardein even offers a holiday roast for all your festive gathering needs. While currently their refrigerated varieties are only available in Canada, in the U.S., the frozen Gardein options are popping up at a wide range of grocery stores. In the case that you live in a locale where it’s your only grocery option, they have even been spotted at Walmart.
  2. Beyond Meat: Not only are they currently meeting the poultry industry with a transparency challenge, Beyond Meat’s Lightly Seasoned Chicken Strips readily act as a chief ingredient to make for a protein-filled salad or chicken-based dish, and boast 20 g. of vegetable-based protein per 3 oz. serving. Plus these and their other variety of chicken strips are low in both caloric and sodium intake. To top it off, these strips include non-GMO ingredients and are gluten-free. And when it comes to the price to quantity ratio, Beyond Meat offers a bang for your buck.

Although it doesn’t include some of the newest, cutting edge releases in the faux department, here is a quick mock meat guide to help you select a winning substitute regardless of what type of dish you find yourself in the mood to prepare.

Make Your Own: Still, the safest and “wholistic” way, is to make your own meat substitute.  As much as I love tofu, tempeh and seitan, your substitute doesn’t have to be one that is soy or wheat-gluten based.  If you don’t have much time on your hands, simply sautéing a whole portobello mushroom in balsamic vinegar or another marinade of choice is an easy way to allow a whole food to stand on its own instead of a meaty burger. In the same vein, mushrooms sautéed on the stovetop in a basic pasta sauce with some Sriracha mixed in, can rival a good chicken wing any day. If you have a bit more time on your hands, here are a few veggie burger recipes to try — incorporating everything from lentils, to broccoli, to sweet potatoes.

Image Source: Beyond Meat

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2 comments on “Mock Meat Shakedown: Are ‘Plant-based Meats’ Healthy?”

Click to add comment
9 Months Ago

You (conveniently?) omitted the incredible number of preservatives and other chemicals in every one of the brands you mentioned. Didn\'t realize this \'till I got home with a bag full of the things you referred to and will be returning them all tomorrow..

3 Years Ago

There isn\'t anything inherently wrong or less nutritious about GMOs. Please provide sources because although I used to detest them I have found with a little research they aren\'t any worse than "organic".

11 Jul 2015

Sources are not provided because at the moment in the literature their aren\'t any hard hitting data that substantiate the claim that GMOs are inherently unhealthy. However, the manner in which GMO crops are grown and cultivated do have substantial negative environmental implications. Unfortunately, the dominant food system has caught wind of the rising popularity of organics and has since started to manufacture organic produce in much the same way as GMO crops. Long story short, organics are becoming just as environmentally hazardous as GMOs.

3 Years Ago

Great article but the link to a mock meat guide doesn\'t work....and searching the site there\'s not one. I would love a mock meat guide if one exists!

Sam Weerdo
4 Years Ago

If you\'re going to make bold claims, such as "...likely genetically modified, bringing with it numerous health threats", please provide references to peer-reviewed, scientific studies which demonstrate such claims. Good luck, because there aren\'t any. And no, hippie blog sites and speculation from people who don\'t have any scientific background on the topic are not scientific sources.

02 Jan 2017

No. But the studies on the damage to human gut bacteria from glyphosate IS in and the science says it\'s not good. Most GMOs are designed to produce their own or withstand high levels of pesticides and herbicides. Bad for the environment and bad for our guts. There is a lot of misinformation regarding GMOs but the bottom line is accurate the way they are grown is not healthy.

4 Years Ago

How can you give props to Beyond Meat? They have yeast extract in their product which is code for MSG which can cause all kids of unpleasant reactions in people, especially if they are allergic. Also, your article mentioned how \'natural flavors\' can be anything. Looking at the ingredients list, natural flavors was listed.
This really bums me out, but I think I\'ll skip out on Beyond Meat.

4 Years Ago

I kinda can't believe you left out soy curls. No did you talk about the problems with 'fake' meats from Taiwan and how they often aren't really vegan due to disparity in labeling laws. http://archives.quarrygirl.com/2009/06/28/undercover-investigation-of-la-area-vegan-restaurants/#more-3351

Beyond Meat
4 Years Ago

Thank you so much for the wonderful write-up. We're proud of how far the meat alternative industry has come and always love it when we hear others getting just as excited. Thanks again and keep on cluckin! :-)


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