Meat substitutes are becoming all the rage. In fact, the segment accounts for approximately $20 billion in sales globally. This is set to increase even further. When you look at meat substitutes on their surface, they make a very compelling case. Not only are they more environmentally friendly than raising livestock, but many have similar taste and come without the guilt of less-than-ideal nutritional value…or do they?
The truth about meat substitutes
Unfortunately, while we think of plants as universally healthy, the fake burger that you may be looking for is not simply ground up vegetable served to you. It is highly processed. Along with that processing, there are aspects that are better than meat, but several possible issues too. While alternative meat may have somewhat lower saturated fat and typically plenty of fiber, these products often contain lower levels of protein and lots of sodium. And, unfortunately, this is the very real drawback of vegetable-based meat substitutes. While tofu and older meat substitutes didn’t look terribly appetizing, they truly held a nutritional advantage over the meat that they were replacing. Today, that difference is not as stark.
There is also a psychological component that may cause patients some trouble. We are often on the lookout for healthy foods to then allow us to cheat a little bit with indulgences. For example, we may opt for the meat substitute burger, get a side of fries. It’s important to remember that this is not sustainable. In other words, you may be consuming even more calories than you otherwise would have, all while patting yourself on the back.
What’s the answer?
The answer is something that we will always continue to preach – and that is moderation. The fresh foods we eat are not appreciably different from the days when obesity was not a concern of epidemic proportions in the United States. Rather, the processed ingredients we use today – usually full of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat – and the portion sizes – anywhere from two to three times what our parents or grandparents would have eaten – mean that we are consuming more “bad stuff” than ever before. If we committed to cut a new-normal portion in half and keep the second half for later, our daily caloric intake would be more in line. Unfortunately, we also tend to eat everything that’s on our plate which can add hundreds if not thousands of extra calories each day. A secondary benefit is that you have leftovers to eat later.
As for what exactly you should be eating. Whether you enjoy a beef burger or a meat substitute burger, they can be OK if they are consumed in moderation. But you can’t rely on the restaurant to determine what moderation is for you. Rather, you need to be your strongest advocate, making sure that your portion sizes are reasonable and always ask about ingredients and preparation.
Of course, some of us are not able to control our weight through diet and exercise over the long term. These patients should contact our office to learn more about the bariatric procedures available to them and schedule a consultation with one of our surgeons to learn more.