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Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Are Healthy Swaps

Sharon Palmer

Recent research shows that swapping out more animal foods for plant-based meat alternatives is a healthy habit—for you and the planet.

Interest in plant-based diets, specifically plant-based meat alternatives, has skyrocketed! That’s because people are taking a more active role in their health, and the health of the planet. Research shows the health, nutrition, and environmental benefits of eating more plant foods. The popularity of plant-based meats makes a lot of sense, as people try eating less meat. Big name brands—Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat Burger, Gardein, MorningStar Farms—have brought plant-based meats center stage and have everyone talking, tasting, and wondering—are these plant-based meat products really healthier than animal-based meat products?

Squash Filled with Herbed Quinoa and Cranberries

What About Nutrition?

Plant-based meats and animal-based meats are quite similar when it comes to calories, protein, and saturated fat. In terms of nutrients, plant-based meats, which contain more fiber, lower cholesterol, and less sodium, may provide higher nutrient content. It’s always important, however, to check out the ingredients on nutrition labels. Look for products that contain adequate amounts of protein (at least 7 grams of protein per serving), low sodium (less than 500 milligrams), and low saturated fats (less than 2 grams). Generally, look for products that contain mostly healthy, whole-food ingredients.

Vegan Choucroute Garnie

What About Health?

According to the SWAP-MEAT (The Study with Appetizing Plant Food — Meat Eating Alternatives Trial) Study from Stanford University, plant-based meats are a potentially healthier alternative to animal-based meats. Study participants consumed two or more servings of Beyond Meat plant-based meat alternatives and then animal-based meats for eight weeks each, while keeping other foods and drinks as similar as possible during each of the two phases. 

The plant products improved several cardiovascular risk factors, including significantly lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide). The switch from animal-based to plant-based meats also showed a modest amount of weight loss among participants, even though caloric intake remained the same with both types of meat. Though sodium levels of plant-based meats are thought to be higher than animal-based meats, sodium intake was similar between the two, perhaps because the plant-based product was pre-seasoned, while consumers generally add seasoning to animal meats.

This study, along with other scientific data and research, shows that replacing animal-based meats with plant-based meats provides more nutritional value, which essentially leads to reduced risk of certain diseases. In addition to the health benefits of plant-based meats, they also improve the health of the environment through the reduction of environmental inputs, reduction of water and land use, and more. The growing field of research on the benefits of plant-based meats consistently indicates that making small changes to your diet by incorporating plant-based meats instead of animal-based meats has the potential to improve the health of individuals.

Written by Savanna Malki, dietetic intern, with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Images by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Main Image: Rustic Vegan Corn Potato Sausage Skillet

Learn more about plant-based meat alternatives here:

The Best in Meat Alternatives
Rebellyous Foods, a New Take on Meatless Alternatives
Are Impossible and Beyond Meat Burgers Better Than Meat?

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