As people become more conscious of their impact on the world, interesting eating habits and diets have been popping up. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of plant-based diets — but is plant-based meat just a fad that will go away along with other strange celebrity diets or the Wine Diet of the 1960s?
The move has always been there but this new wave of interest is thought to have come about due to recent documentaries. As vegan and vegetarian sections at grocery stores pop up followed by restaurant offerings, it seems like everyone’s doing it.
Evolution of a Trend
To satisfy the culinary taste-buds of most consumers, the plant-based diet had to change and evolve. In the 1980s and ’90s, vegetarians and vegans where often thought of as skinny, frail people sadly eating salads. (Okay, maybe they weren’t sad, but they made us feel sad and hungry.)
Fast forward to today, with the mix of clever marketing and endorsements by athletes, that stereotype has been changing. Athletes like Tom Brady showed us that you too can enjoy a bowl of avocado ice cream with your blueberry protein shake. Sadly, the supermodel wife and top-notch body doesn’t come with it.
And this is a key point. Veggie foods aren’t always healthy. According to a report from the BBC, coconut oil is frequently used in vegan cheese alternatives. This helps the “cheese” stay solid at room temperature and other plant-based fats are liquid. However, coconut oil is very high in saturated fats — sometimes higher levels than animal fats.
“This is worrying because what sat fat does is increase LDL [low-density lipoprotein] cholesterol which is responsible for fatty plaque build-up in arteries,” dietician Rachel Clarkson told the news service. “One day that plaque may be pulled off the side of your artery and that is where you get a heart attack or stroke.”
Greens Are the New Meat
It’s no surprise that fast-food chains have honed in on this and started offering plant-based meats. Places like Burger King and MacDonald’s are most likely aware of the reputation of their products. Historically, their advertising campaigns have been built on the idea of more meat, more bacon, and more cheese.
Now companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are competing with the meat industry by challenging the taste, smell and texture of meat with plant-based alternatives. To test the premise, on his show Dr. Oz compared the nutritional value of an Impossible Burger and a regular burger. In all aspects except cholesterol, the two were essentially the same — taste, cost, and nutrition. The only significant advantage the plant-based burger offered was significantly less cholesterol.
“An 85 percent lean beef burger, which is what you see in restaurants, has about 6 percent saturated fat,” Elisabetta Politi, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., the nutrition director of the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina said to Runners World. “An Impossible Burger has 8 grams of saturated fat in a four ounce patty, because it contains all that coconut oil.”
And Scientific American has more to add about the health detriments of the Impossible Burger, counting heme – the ingredient giving the burger its realistic bloody look — as a hazard.
“Heme iron may be a double-edged sword, however. Athough it’s very bioavailable, it’s also a highly reactive molecule which, in excessive amounts, could lead to cell damage. Studies have found that those who eat the most red meat have higher risks of colon cancer and other diseases compared to people who eat other types of meat or no meat at all. One of the working theories points to high intakes of heme iron as the culprit,” said Scientific American.
What About the Environment?
There is the environmental impact of the meat industry on climate change. Cows are expensive to grow and require immense amounts of water, land, and grain. Then there’s the methane that’s wreaking havoc on the ozone.
Plants, on the other hand, are at the bottom of the food chain and can produce more product per gallon of water and acre of land.
So, that all said, is there really a difference? This, it seems, is in the eye of the eater.
Is plant-based meat just a passing fad or does it have the potential to become a staple in our diets? The deciding factor lies in one thing: cost. Just like renewable energy sources, the plant-based fads started on environmentally-friendly principles, but are sustained by their price.
For now, the pendulum is swinging toward vegetables.