Plant based meat- Yay or Nay?

July 30, 2020

In India, 70-80% of the population, as per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16, are meat-eaters. A growing shift among a health-conscious middle class has spurred a number of start-ups that deal with mock meat. But what exactly is ‘mock meat’?

Mock meat is a type of vegetarian processed food, made entirely using plant ingredients like soy, wheat gluten, pea protein, coconut oil, which replicate the organoleptic features (aka taste and texture) of animal meat. Many different ingredients are being put to test in order to obtain desired characteristics resembling the flesh of an animal. 

This apparently novel technique was introduced with the aim to help reduce reliance on industrial meat production. Popular media faces, celebrities, sports personalities are supporting the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, and therefore, the idea of a vegetarian meat alternative.

Given the media focus and misinformation and propaganda about how animal consumption leads to environmental destruction and health problems, hardcore non-vegetarians are also becoming increasingly concerned of the many risks associated with the consumption of these livestock.

The Environmentalists Argument

Apparently more and more land is used for animal agriculture, to cultivate crops for livestock fodder. Animal agriculture takes up 77% of all agricultural land on Earth despite supplying only 17% of humanity’s food supply. Plant based meat is considered to be a pathway to a sustainable food supply.  In addition, they claim greenhouse gas emissions are yet another problem for nature. Animal agriculture’s emissions come from three major sources: conversion of forests to pasture land and cropland; production of animal feed and animal digestion and waste decomposition. Also, claim there is always a risk of zoonotic diseases such as swine flu and avian flu.

The Health Argument

While it is true that due to its increased demand, more and more animals are being grown in a very inauthentic way. Chickens are pumped with growth hormones and antibiotic injections which when consumed can lead to a variety of health issues, the topmost being- antibiotic resistance. Fish farms are regularly sprayed with antibiotics and fed unnatural feeds to ensure growth and increase in yield. There’s no denying these practices make animal foods unfit for human consumption, there is always the option of pasture raised, grass fed livestock that is still fit for our consumption. 

Research from the past has found that diets high in red meat, especially processed meat, have been associated with a range of health consequences, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Therefore the recommendation was that mock-meats with its ‘unique mimicry’ of meat can be a better alternative because of the health dangers linked with animal intake. These findings have been extensively debunked by researchers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists in recent years. 

Here’s the truth about mock-meats such as Beyond burgers, Impossible meat and our own Indian version, Good dot. 

The products used to produce plant based meats generally rely on fumigated plant protein. They are also highly processed. Processing can lead to i) loss of some nutrients and phytochemicals which are naturally present in a food; ii) can create highly-palatable foods

A study on controlled feeding suggests that diets high in ultra-processed food cause excess caloric intake and weight gain (1).

Although the novel meat has zero cholesterol, similar proteins and calories, they are high in their sodium content which has to be definitely looked out for!

It is surreal, but the industry calls this pseudo meat as “clean meat,” because they are created in a laboratory, not raised in a factory farm. The troubles with this fake meat are that the existing products are made using wheat gluten and soy to acquire the intended attributes of real meat. A wealth of research has backed up the fact that gluten, a protein present in wheat and other foodstuffs causes gut health problems. Some individuals are also found to be allergic to gluten (commonly known as Celiac disease or gluten intolerance) and manifest immediate symptoms upon its ingestion.

The base ingredient used for the production of these plant based faux meats is Soy. A study revealed that the amount of estrogen present in burgers made from soy is high enough to lead to gynaecomastia (aka growth of breasts in men).Moreover, soy is also known to be a potent allergen. Hence, gluten and soy- based meat alternatives pose a great threat to its consumers. 

This novel technology also involves the use of non-animal cell (algae, bacteria, fungi and so on) cultures to reproduce the exact properties. This might involve genetic modifications of certain products to obtain similar nutritional and other qualities of animal meat.

Also the agenda behind this plant based and vegan propaganda  is becoming increasingly politicised. For all the warm talk, global food policy is really an alliance of industry and capital intent on both controlling and distorting food production. To meet the 2050 challenges for quality protein and some of the most problematic micronutrients worldwide, animal source foods remain fundamental. There’s enough evidence to show that regenerative agriculture practices increase soil biodiversity and organic matter, leading to more resilient soils that can better withstand climate change impacts like flooding and drought. Healthy soils beget strong yields and nutrient-rich crops. 

Our recommendations- Stick to whole natural sources of animal meat, there really is no substitute for animal meat when it comes to nutrient density. If you do choose to avoid it for ethical or religious reasons, you will need to supplement heavily. Talk to us if you need help with this. 

But if someone offers you mock meat, please run in the opposite direction as fast as you can. They are really terrible for your health and we wouldn’t recommend them at all. 


Ria Jain
Functional Nutritionist

Ria has a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics and is in a permanent research mode and keeps the rest of us at iThrive (Previously ThriveFNC) updated with her latest findings in the field of Nutrition. Her articles on iThrive's blog are an expression of her research findings. We really don’t know what we’d do without her support and her focus.

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