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Plant-based meats refer to food products that mimic animal meat products. The eating experience and taste are equivalent to consuming meat. They appear like meat too. They may also be called “fake” meats, “meat alternatives,” or “vegan meats.” A variety of plant-based products are taking the food market by storm.

Plant-based meats which are considered substitutes for animal meats are actually processed and industrially manufactured products. Its market is growing by the day. The global estimated value of the plant-based meat market is a staggering USD 5 billion currently. North America is the hub for the plant-based meat market.

Excessive consumption of animal-based meat may result in diet-related diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Plant based meats have their own advantages and disadvantages. Plant-based meats are used in making foods like burgers, sausages, ham, chicken nuggets, fish fingers and meatballs.  Most of the meat substitutes in the market include proteins from plant origins. It has soy, green peas, jack fruit, wheat gluten, legumes, beans, vegetable proteins, nuts and seeds.

Ingredients in plant-based meats include seitan, jackfruit, coconut oil, veg protein extract, beet juice, soy or other legumes, wheat, yeasts, other plants., and premade products that mimic traditional meats.

Excessive consumption of animal-based meat may result in diet-related diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Seitan is a plant-based meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten. It has a savory flavor and chewy texture that works well in stir-fry, sandwiches, stews, and pasta dishes.

Jackfruit flesh, because of its texture and mild flavor, is often used in place of meat dishes such as pulled pork. Jackfruit is low in calories and doesn’t have much protein or fat compared to other plant-based meat alternatives. However, it does offer some fiber and a small number of micronutrients, such as iron, potassium, and calcium.

A curry made of plant-based meat (image credit: gooddot)

Soy is a legume and one of the original plant-based meat alternatives. Soy-based foods tend to have a mild flavor and versatile texture that make them ideal for use in many traditionally meat-based dishes.

There are various health benefits associated with plant-based products, about which consumers are getting more aware recently. Plant-based meat is uneconomical when compared to animal-based meat, which is likely to impact its growth in price-sensitive markets such as India, China, and South Africa.

As with any food, the healthiest options among plant-based meat alternatives are the ones you can eat as close to their original form as possible. Not all plant-based meat alternatives are inherently healthy. Some still contain large amounts of saturated fat and sodium, as well as other ingredients you may want to avoid. The key is to eat them in moderation. Additionally, some of the more processed options can be fairly expensive.

Plant-based meat products contain nutritional benefits similar to that of animal meat. Manufacturers try to make the meat substitutes similar to meat in terms of texture, color, flavor, and taste. However, most consumers are disappointed by the taste and variety of meat substitutes.

Consumers have a perception that there is a significant compromise in taste if they opt for meat substitutes. For instance, the off-flavor of soy protein makes it undesirable for consumption. However, the high nutritional value of soy has led to its demand. Besides, consumers believe that meat substitutes are either too gummy or too chewy.
Pea is currently being used for plant-based meat. Pea serves as an alternative for consumers with a soy allergy. The characteristic of pea protein is its lack of allergenicity and its amino acid profile. Also, it lends a chewy, meat-like texture to products.

Plant-based meats are highly processed products, (frozen, canned, dried, baked pasteurized) and contain additives such as extra sugar, salt, and oil. It has higher amounts of sodium, usually in an attempt to make it more palatable and have greater shelf-life. Too much sodium can cause adverse health effects, including high blood pressure and stroke.

Plant-based meats are highly processed products, (frozen, canned, dried, baked pasteurized) and contain additives such as extra sugar, salt, and oil.

Unhealthy ingredients can be refined coconut oil and modified food starch.

Some plant-based substitutes, for example those derived from soybeans, are not so eco-friendly. Researchers at National Institutes of Health suggest people consume an extra 500 calories a day leading to weight gain. Plant-based meats can fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation no more than a couple times a week

A growing number of plant-based meat alternatives are available today. Many of them are delicious and easy to access that even people who don’t follow a plant-based diet enjoy eating them.

For choosing healthy plant-based meats, appropriate product labeling and reading the ingredients label and nutrition facts will help. The recommended daily limit of sodium is 2,300 mg for the average person, so look for plant-based meats that provide no more than 20% of the DV (Daily value) of sodium per serving. Also, look for low saturated fat and a short ingredients list with real food ingredients like organic soy, peas, vital wheat gluten (if you don’t have celiac disease), seeds, and vegetables.

Fiber, protein, and vitamin B12 should be high, if possible. Aim for at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving, 9 or more grams of protein, and 20% DV of vitamin B12 unless you already take a supplement. Avoid added sugars, hydrogenated oils, and artificial ingredients if possible.
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