Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Good and the Bad of Meat Analogs

This posting from Finally Our Time has been revised and moved to The Art of Plant-Based Meal Creation as of June 23, 2019.

Last night, I made a presentation to the Sun City Hilton Head Eat Smart Live Longer Club on why many "vegan" foods are not whole food, plant-based and are best minimized. While there was much more to the presentation than what is shown in this blog posting, the four slides shown in this posting drive home the key points of the presentation.
But before getting to these slides, let me say, however, that I am a strong proponent for Beyond Meat and for Impossible Meat and other such meat analogs that come on the market. They will be and are a huge benefit for helping meat eaters reduce the quantity of animal-based products that they eat. If all 327 million people in the United States were to replace just one pound per week of animal products, say on Meatless Mondays, with a meat analog, that would be over 17 billion pounds less of animal product consumed in this country. Think about that --- 17 billion pounds less. How many fewer animals would have to suffer and die for us? How many fewer farms would that require? How much less water usage would that be? How much less damage to the atmosphere would that result in?
That makes an important point that I've stressed for years now. You don't have to be vegan to have a big impact -- an impact on your health, an impact on the environment, an impact on society and an impact on the animals. Whatever you have done and can do will help. Over time, I think the ideal would be to re-create our culture to be one where eating animal products becomes as unacceptable in society as is smoking today. But we're not going to get there overnight.
Now, the slides. The purpose of these slides is to show to people who already eat whole food, plant-based, that these foods are not truly whole food, plant-based. And that's okay. The manufacturers have said these foods are not intended for us. These foods are intended for meat eaters. But many people who eat whole food, plant-based are confused, and have expressed that through questions to me, about the role these foods should play in a whole food, plant-based diet. I don't say that they, or any food, should be eliminated, but they are a food to minimize. I have eaten the Beyond Burger a few times in the past year myself, a couple times since making this presentation. My point is just to make people aware of what they are eating when they do eat one. Hopefully, this reduces some of the confusion.

In the first two slides, I did two comparisons of two very popular meat analogue burgers against first our own whole food plant-based guidelines and then secondly against the actual hamburger (and the comparison here was against a not very lean hamburger at that). In fairness, I should note that the Beyond Burger has changed its ingredients since I made these slides, and I have not evaluated the current ingredients. These slides are from an earlier presentation.

As can be seen on the first slide, neither burger meets our requirements when it comes to fat content or to sodium content.

Furthermore, when you compare against fat, saturated fat, sodium and calories, the hamburger comes out the healthier choice. And the more lean we make the hamburger, the more dramatic the differences can be.

Of course the point of that is not to say that anyone should start eating real hamburger meat again. We already know that hamburger meat is not considered healthy, is not whole food, plant-based, is not good for the environment and is a disaster for the lives of so many animals.

But it's not just the fat and sodium content that are problems; it's also the ingredients. This next slide makes the point as to why I sometimes call these foods "chemical-based" as opposed to "plant-based." And as we always say, if you don't recognize the ingredients or you can't pronounce the ingredients, then it's probably not a whole food.

Again, in fairness, the ingredients list for these two meat analogs does look better than it does for a lot of processed foods. So, if I was going to eat a processed food, this would likely be the better choice.

Then I got into one of my favorite topics (and this drew the loudest gasps last night). That topic is Natural Flavors. There's a whole book just on natural flavors, called The Dorito Effect and it's an excellent book to read. It's eye opening.

So, this next slide is intended to show how Natural Flavors shows up in an Ingredients list and how innocuous it looks on the label. It's almost inviting. It makes it sound like we're talking about the real food, being that it's natural, flavoring the particular food or drink.

But then this fifth slide destroys that myth. In this slide, I show the ingredients (chemicals) behind just one typical natural flavor. Those are ingredients that never show up on the label. All the label says is "Natural Flavors."

Note: This ingredients list for one natural flavor is NOT the natural flavors for the Impossible Burger. And as noted in the ingredients list, the Beyond Burger does not include natural flavors.

But I would say that about 90% of the processed foods in the store today have Natural Flavors listed in their ingredients listing. That's my guesstimate as to the prevalence of natural flavors. And we don't know what is in those natural flavors.

In conclusion, I make the point that our WFPB way of eating, while it can exclude animal products, is really not a vegan diet. It is a diet focused on eating real food (not fake food or processed foods made in a manufacturing facility somewhere). I think that Michael Pollan described it best when he wrote:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Those seven words, to me, wrap up the entire whole food, plant-based philosophy. If we keep those seven words in mind at every meal, then we should always be able to steer ourselves right when it comes to eating healthy. But if instead, we think of the WFPB way of eating as a vegan diet, then we can get led astray and we can find ourselves easily eating a lot of less than ideal foods.

One thing that almost all successful diets for health (WFPB, Mediterranean, Paleo, etc.) have in common is the minimization of processed foods. Hopefully, these slides and my presentation to about 140 people last night help to convey why that is.

Encouraging Others to Become Plant-Based

Last month, I wrote in my monthly column for our local newspaper, The Bluffton Sun that it is really important that people increase their intake of plant-based foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. And that they shouldn't get hung up on totally giving up animal-based foods if they find that to be a stumbling block for them. The important thing is to reduce the amount of animal-based foods in our diets and to increase the plant-based foods. It's a point that Dr. Greger makes much more eloquently in his book How Not to Die. And it's what I truly believe.

But at last Thursday's Eat Smart Live Longer Club meeting, I was chastised by one of our members who felt that I was hurting the club or the whole food, plant-based movement (I'm not sure which) by writing that column. I want to respond to that because I seriously disagree with that, and she didn't stay with me to hear what I thought. There may be others who think like she does too, so I think it's worth responding to.

While I think the ESLL club and the wfpb movement are important for the message they deliver and the support they provide to each other, I think it's vitally more important to move the general population toward eating fewer animal products and more plant-based products. And my motives are purely selfish for wanting that:

  • I want people healthier so that my medical insurance premiums can go down instead of up when insurance companies no longer have to pay for people to be on lifelong medications for diabetes, heart disease or other chronic illnesses AND for when they're not having to cover so many people being hospitalized and making frequent doctor office visits.
  • I want people healthier so that my taxes can go down when the government no longer needs to spend as much on Medicare and Medicaid, or so that those programs can be extended to cover more people and for the remainder of my projected lifetime.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that fewer animal farms are needed, thus ending my having to check my greens every other month to see if they've been infected by e-coli bacteria.
  • I want people to go plant-based because I am empathetic toward farm animals and the horrendous conditions they live under and the atrocious nature by which they are slaughtered.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that they quit consuming high quantities of meats that then result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that spreads to the rest of the population and could be a killer of any one of us (or a lot of us through a plague) someday.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that I and others won't be subjected to all the devastating effects of climate change.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that there will be enough clean water available for all of us in the future.
  • I want people to go plant-based in order to preserve our ecosystem upon which all of our lives depend, whether we realize it or not.
It's not just good enough that I am plant-based and experiencing great health by being so. It's not just good enough that 600 some members of the Eat Smart Live Longer Club are plant-based. It's not just good enough that 8% of the population is vegetarian and 3% is vegan. 

No, I think we need a cultural shift in thinking. We need for people on a wide scale to eat mostly whole, plant-based foods. Sure there are health benefits to be gained by giving up all animal products and all processed foods, and many people do that. But to over 90% of the population, there is not the desire right now to do that. I know that because they don't do that.

But what they will do is cut back on animal and processed food consumption. And any cutback is progress. If all 300 million people in the United States cut back on animal consumption by 50%, that would be the equivalent of 150 million people going 100% vegan. So, to gain the benefits of eliminating animal-based foods doesn't mean that we all have to be vegan. It's far more likely that I can get a person to cut back some percentage of their consumption on animal products than it is that I can convince them to go totally vegan. We know that because the percentage of true vegans has been stagnant since the 1940s when the movement first started.

So, I will always take a practical approach. I myself came to this way of eating by following Mark Bittman of The New York Times, who wrote the book VB6. His message was to eat vegan for all meals during the day except one. While I never ever would have considered going totally off of animal foods back then, I knew that that was something I could do. And he made a convincing case for why I should do that. If I started that way, then why should I expect anybody else to start off totally vegan?

I will always promote living a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. And if that means telling somebody that it's okay to include some animal products in it, then so be it. It's still a good thing for the animals as long as they're eating fewer animal products than before. It's good for the environment. It's good for me. And it's good for their health. I'd rather get somebody doing that than I would to lose them because I told them to jump all in and be vegan from the get go (or from any part of their whole food plant-based journey).

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man, Half the Weight
June 23, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Baked Sweet Potato Oatmeal

Tonight I decided to have oatmeal for dinner, but I also had a sweet potato that I needed to use up. So, I decided to make a sweet potato oatmeal entree. Adding in mashed banana for added sweetness, it turned out to be a delicious dish that I topped with blueberries and walnuts.

This makes a serving for two (or for one extra hungry person).


1/2 cup steel cut oats
1 sweet potato
1 banana, sliced and chopped
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1-1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk


First slice the sweet potato into thin slices. I do not peel my sweet potatoes, but you can peel it first if that is preferred.  However, the largest amount of nutrients are in the skin of the potato.

Place the slice sweet potato into the Instant Pot on a steamer rack with about 1 inch of water. Cook pressurized for 10 minutes.

Place the sweet potato in the Vitamix or other blender and blend to a puree consistency.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 and place all of the ingredients in a baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Top it with blueberries and walnuts and enjoy!