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.

No comments:

Post a Comment