Plant-based meat substitutes, (un)healthy?
Chicken pieces, Knakroot, Bean nuggets, Biekstukc and not to forget the Beyond-Meat Burger. Nowadays you cannot name a meat product without a vegetable variant. These meat substitutes are a lot more sustainable and animal-friendly. In most cases they also just taste very good! But… sustainable also means healthy? The meat substitutes fall in the category of 'ultra-processed products' in an international classification of foods. That is cause for doubt. In this article, nutrition expert Prof. dr. Tiny van Boekel of the University of Wageningen answers the question whether plant-based meat substitutes are also good for health.
The Dutch want to eat less meat, for reasons ranging from animal welfare to environmental awareness. The ease of cooking of plant-based meat substitutes makes them very popular. In addition, there is a lot of development in these products and meat imitations are getting better, both in taste and structure. However, the health of these products is still debatable, because they are labeled 'ultra-processed', according to the NOVA classification. This is bad news, because ultra-processed products are recommended to eat as little as possible.
These vegetable meat substitutes are industrially processed and this could have a negative effect on health. To understand what this means, let's take the example of apples and applesauce. Applesauce is a modified version of an apple. Apples are mashed into a pulp and 'processed' in the process. The effect of such an operation is that it takes less effort for your body to digest the product. The structure of the apple has already been destroyed for you during the mashing. So you digest the applesauce faster than the apple. As a result, you get hungry again relatively quickly and you eat something faster. Because of this last fact, eating a lot of processed products is often linked to obesity and overweight. The NOVA classification classifies products from raw (1) to ultra-processed (4). Meat substitutes fall under the ultra-processed products and the advice of the NOVA classification is to eat as few processed products as possible, and therefore as few meat substitutes as possible.
Nova classification: from raw (1) to ultra-processed (4), with examples of products. Meat substitutes fall under the ultra-processed products (4) From: https://degezondheidswinkel.be/blog/dikke-darmkanker-bewerkte-voeding/#gref.
Are meat substitutes unhealthy?
A piece of meat from the supermarket falls into the first category of the NOVA classification, namely unprocessed products, while plant-based meat substitutes fall into the fourth category, namely ultra-processed products. According to the NOVA classification, a piece of unprocessed meat is therefore much healthier than a vegetable meat substitute.
However, it is not that simple, says expert Tiny van Boekel: "There is quite a bit to argue with about the usefulness of this classification, especially the suggestion that editing is the source of all evil." The nutritional value of meat substitutes lies in the first place in the proteins that the vegetable meat substitutes contain. Because you do not ingest the piece of meat, it is important that you still meet your daily requirement of proteins. This can be done through vegetable protein sources, such as beans, nuts, peas, lentils or grains, which form the basis of the meat substitutes. According to Tiny van Boekel, processing is not at the expense of this nutritional value. So you can rest assured. You can easily get your daily amount of protein by means of a vegetable meat substitute. That is safe and just as healthy as eating a piece of meat.
Eating meat substitutes as a source of protein is therefore healthy, but according to van Boekel, a health aspect of meat substitutes can still improve: the salt content. That has to come down a lot. Salt is there to give the product taste, but in general there is too much salt in meat substitutes. Colleagues at van Boekel are actively researching other ways of flavoring the products, whereby less salt has to be added.
Another health aspect of the processed meat substitute that can be improved even further, according to Van Boekel, is the retention of the fibers in the product. Getting fiber is important for your digestion. Unfortunately, the fiber present in the vegetable components of meat substitutes is largely lost in the processing process. The fact is that meat also contains no fiber. The meat substitute is therefore not inferior to the piece of meat. It would be nice if the meat substitutes could retain this extra health aspect, namely a richness in fiber, in the future.
If you want to make sure you get enough fiber and not too much salt, it is best at this time to eat unprocessed meat substitutes, such as lentils, beans, nuts, peas or grains. The only thing you have to pay attention to with these products is that you get enough protein and vitamin B12. The average daily requirement for protein for an adult is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Which is converted 56 grams, for a person who weighs 70 kilograms. For example, your daily requirement for cooked chickpeas, which contain 19 grams of protein per 100 grams, would be just under 300 grams of chickpeas. But, you don't have to eat that much! There is also protein in many other products that you eat throughout the day, such as bread. What is also good to know is that the Dutch generally get plenty of protein, according to polls by the RIVM. Unprocessed meat substitutes are therefore an easy replacement for meat and even a step healthier than processed meat substitutes.
All in all, processed vegetable meat substitutes are certainly not bad for your health by definition. As long as you make sure you don't get too much salt and enough fiber. And if you want to be sure of a healthy meal, cook with unprocessed meat substitutes!
Translated by google translate.