I have been hearing a lot lately about the new fake meat, plant-based, products that are becoming so popular. Are they really healthier than meat? Here is a super rundown from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods are not a new phenomenon. Tofu, for example, has often been treated as an alternative to meat for centuries. In more recent decades, food companies have processed mixtures of soy and other legumes, grains, and a variety of plants into burgers, nuggets, sausages, and other meat-shaped products. These creations were often targeted towards a vegan or vegetarian demographic, and despite their appearance, were not necessarily intended to completely recreate the taste of their meat-based counterparts.
However, a new generation of plant-based meat alternatives is aiming to do just that. In a recent JAMA Viewpoint, Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition, and co-authors including Gina McCarthy, Director of C-CHANGE at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, discuss how popular products like Impossible Foods’ and Beyond Meat’s burger patties are aimed to appeal to a broader consumer base with their “unique mimicry” of beef in both taste and experience. They also note how these products are often marketed as a way to “help reduce reliance on industrial meat production,” aligned with recent reports calling for dietary patterns higher in plant-based foods for both human and planetary health.
Can these novel products be considered part of a healthy and sustainable diet? According to the Viewpoint authors, the answer to this question “remains far from clear given the lack of rigorously designed, independently funded studies.” We spoke with Dr. Hu to learn more about the potential benefits and concerns surrounding popular plant-based meat alternatives.
Although these alternative meats are being made from plants, you suggest caution in applying existing research findings on plant-based foods and human health. Can you talk about some of that evidence, and why it’s not readily applicable? Continue reading