Are vegan meat substitutes good for you?
With veganism now an established lifestyle choice, it seems more and more supermarket and fast food chains are releasing vegan alternatives to keep up with consumer attitudes. From Greggs’ infamous vegan sausage roll to the launch of Asda’s brand new plant-based range, it seems vegans are being catered for everywhere, including fast food chains and grab-and-go stores.
And while this is a fantastic milestone for the vegan community, I can’t help but wonder how healthy these vegan alternatives are. Are they nutritious, meat-free alternatives teeming with essential proteins and healthy fats? Or are they packed with saturated fats, sugar and salt to ensure they taste good and win over consumers? After reading that Pret’s vegan cookies contained “the same amount of fat as a McDonald’s cheeseburger”, I decided to do a little research into some of the most popular ready-to-eat vegan products and meat substitutes on the market.
Fast food meat is notorious for being pumped with preservatives, additives and excess oil to satisfy taste buds and keep customers coming back for more. But what about vegan fast food alternatives? According to Geeta Sidhu-Robb, it seems meat-free alternatives are not necessarily a ‘healthy’ alternative, but they still might be better for you than real meat versions. She told Metro: “Probably the biggest thing to be concerned about where meat-substitutes are concerned are the salt levels. Some of these products contain really high levels of sodium, so you do need to be careful when choosing a product and read all labels carefully.
“[But] in the balance of things, alternatives are actually healthier than processed meat – it just depends which substitute you opt for.”
When it comes to fat and calorie content, however, it seems vegan fast food comes in at about the same as meat products. But when we look at supermarkets, it seems meat substitutes score much better, says an article by Live Kindly.
“While Burger King’s meat-free and meat-based burgers boast similar counts of calories and fat, this is not the case for all plant-based products. British supermarket chain Iceland offers vegan ‘No Bull’ quarter-pounder patties. They contain 9 grams of fat per 100 grams, 1.4 of which are saturated. In comparison, the supermarket chain’s beef patties contain 21.8 grams of fat, 9.8 of which are saturated.”
So, as we already knew deep down, vegan fast food products are never going to be good for us. But next time you’re in a fast food restaurant, the vegan alternative may be slightly better for you.
Established before the surge in veganism, Quorn entered the market as a veggie alternative to meat but has since upped its game to offer a vegan line. Quorn products are made using a fermented mycoprotein derived from the Fusarium venenatum, a natural fungus found in soil. Egg white is usually added to the mix, but for its vegan range, potato starch and sometimes pea protein or tapioca starch are used instead. Glucose, oxygen, nitrogen and minerals are also added to create the conditions for it to convert wheat into protein.
“There is no denying that it’s a highly processed food.” Nutritionist Kim Pearson told Runner’s World. “It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that ‘plant-based’ automatically means healthy, but the same rules apply to plant products as they do to animal products – the less processed the better.”
Kim says that while the best form of proteins are ones that occur naturally, eating Quorn once in a while is fine, but ideally, you should opt for the products that are the least processed and have the fewest added ingredients. “These tend to be the most basic Quorn pieces rather than options such as the battered replica fish fillets and pies, for example.”
For as long as veganism has been around, tofu has been a staple ingredient and easy meat alternative, especially for those just starting out with the lifestyle. However, there have been growing concerns over the years about the potential risks associated with over-consumption of soy-based products, with worries that it can affect hormone levels and even lead to breast cancer.
But many experts claim this is untrue, with scientists finding that the ingredient doesn’t contain nearly enough isoflavones to increase the risks associated with breast cancer. On the other hand, Geeta says tofu is an excellent source of protein: “Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids and acts as a valuable source of iron and calcium.
“Soy is high in polysaturated fats, fibre, vitamins and zinc which is beneficial to the immune system. On the whole, if carefully planned, meat alternatives can form the crux of a healthy diet and are far less dense in saturated fats and calorie value than meat.”
So there you have it. It seems vegan fast food is never going to be healthy (if only!) and although vegan supermarket ranges may be slightly better for us, we still have to be diligent in checking the labels for calorie, salt, sugar and saturated fat content. Like with Kolibri, the more natural the ingredients list of a vegan product is, the better it’s going to be for you.
About the author:
Kamila is a bestselling author of “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”, and passionate trend-spotter for the UK Eating Out market with thousands of followers on her widely popular blog www.Bespoke.World.
With a decade of hands-on experience collaborating with hospitality influencers and insight experts and background in setting strategies for leading brands, Kamila has become the industry champion for truly bespoke and guest-centric experiences.