Fake meat is in the limelight now. Is it the key to better health and a better world?
By Alicia Hamm
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As Earth-conscious eating becomes more mainstream, meat-eating is facing growing criticism over health and environmental concerns. With that, a competitor has risen to popularity: plant-based “meats,” marketed as healthier and more eco-friendly, but still tasting surprisingly similar to real meat. However, is this fake meat really better in the long run?
Fake meat has its fair share of benefits. For one thing, it doesn’t harm the environment in the way that real meat production does. In a ScienceDirect article, Ilija Djekic wrote that meat “is one of the leading polluters in the food industry,” contributing to global warming and requiring heavy water and energy use. Not to mention, raising animals for the purpose of consumption can lead to ethical concerns. Research also shows that meat can be unhealthy, especially red meat. According to MedicalNewsToday, regularly eating red meat is linked to health issues such as heart disease and cancer.
But meat substitutes aren’t necessarily healthier. Some contain added sugar or salt, and all of them are highly processed; their ingredients are manipulated to imitate the taste and texture of meat. The Impossible Burger, for example, has the same protein content and less cholesterol than real beef, but it relies on soy protein concentrate, a powdery processed version of soybeans. According to the Cleveland Clinic, fake meats may also include complex ingredients such as genetically engineered proteins. Processed foods, as opposed to whole foods with minimal additives, can be unhealthy. A study found that a 10% increase in processed food consumption was associated with a 12% increase in cardiovascular diseases, among other risks.
So, if you want to better the environment as well as your personal health, who’s the winner of the “meat vs. fake meat” battle?
Maybe no one. Neither option is perfect, but moderation is key: red meats and fake meats alike are most unhealthy when consumed too often. That isn’t to say you should avoid them altogether. A diet that combines real and fake meats, as well as less processed proteins like tofu and tempeh, could be the answer for you.
And, if you do eat meat, try to opt for “organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed” products. This is a more eco-friendly way of meat-eating, since the main environmental and ethical problems come from the factory-style meat industry. Additionally, for your own health, try to switch up the meats you consume: aim for a balance of red meat, white meat, and fish.
In the end, how you approach (or avoid) meat is up to you, and your solution doesn’t have to be black and white. As long as you know the impact of what you eat on your body and the environment, you’ll have what you need to make sustainable choices while also eating the foods you enjoy. Like many parts of life, the most important factor is balance.