Can You Replace Meat With Plant-Based Foods?
A new study suggests the answer is more complicated than you might think
It’s no secret — plant-based foods have exploded in recent years. In the 80s and 90s, eating meat replacements was a moderately off-putting experience, where you usually were either given some form of mushroom or something that vaguely represented meat if you closed your eyes and used your imagination.
Not anymore. In the last few years, the plant-based market has gone from a niche pursuit to a massive, global industry worth billions. Rather than being reserved for the rare vegan, plant-based meat replacements are now de rigueur in many settings, from a coffee shop serving 5 types of plant-based milk to the supermarket shelves stocked with non-meat alternatives.
But as with all things, this explosion in products comes at a cost. While meat products tend to be reasonably similar in terms of nutritional content — obviously, pre-packaged meals differ, but your average chicken breast is fairly consistent — these new plant-based foods are often wildly dissimilar. Is your burger made from seed-based protein, or mushrooms? Did someone milk a grain to get that dairy replacement, or is your vegan cheese made from a combination of nuts and palm oil?
To clear up this confusing mess, a group of nutrition scientists has just released a fascinating pre-printed study looking at precisely this issue, titled: “A cross-sectional study of the commercial plant-based landscape across the US, UK and Canada.”.
So can you replace the meat in your diet with plant-based foods without worrying about your health? Let’s look at the science.
The study in question had a pretty simple, but exhaustive, methodology. The authors went online to the websites of supermarkets chains, restaurants, meal delivery companies, and food manufacturers, looking for plant-based foods with search terms such as “vegan” or “plant-based”. This was used to build a database of nearly 4,500 products, including everything from milk replacements to…