Plant-Based Alternatives, Are They Healthy?

In recent years we have seen a huge rise in the popularity of vegan diets, and following their success we’ve seen numerous plant-based alternatives emerge. Many of which are substitutes for your more traditional animal products. Whilst there have been vegan and vegetarian alternatives around for many years now, they were formerly less processed and considered to be “whole-foods”. Many creators behind our emerging imitation products are now striving to make them as close to the real things as possible. Along with making them widely accessible to purchase at both supermarkets and fast food restaurants. 

With the mounting evidence to suggest that decreasing our consumption of animal products benefits the environment, many of us want to partake in eating plant-based alternatives. But as these imitation animal products move further and further away from their whole food predecessors, we have to ask how healthy they really are? 


The Benefits of Plant-Based Alternatives

It really depends on the product you are purchasing as to whether it has a definitive negative or positive effect on your health. As a general rule of thumb it seems as though plant-based alternatives purchased from the supermarkets should be held in higher esteem than those from fast food chains in the same way you would regard animal products. 

One of the most prominent benefits of choosing a plant-based alternative as opposed to an animal product is the lack of animal carcinogens present. This applies to both purchased meat-substitutes from supermarkets and those in fast food restaurants. Carcinogens; meaning substances that cause cancer to grow in living tissue, exist within animal proteins.  So, should be consumed minimally in order to avoid the related health risks. Switching to plant-based alternatives a few times a week could therefore reduce your risk of these cancer causing substances.

Plant-based substitutes for the most part are considered to be lower in saturated fats and often calories than their equivalent animal products. So if your focus is losing weight, consuming these in place of your traditional meat options may benefit you. 

Again depending on your chosen meat substitute you may have the additional benefits of some fortified nutrients. For example: B12, zinc and iron. These nutrients are good additions to the plant-based alternatives, especially for those maintaining a vegan diet full time. 

A common misconception about a plant-based diet is that it doesn’t provide you with an adequate amount of protein. However many of the emerging plant-based alternatives- particularly those found in supermarkets, have more than a sufficient amount of protein, and can be a great substitute for animal sources. 


The Disadvantages of Plant-Based Alternatives

Whilst traditional plant-based alternatives have previously been far less processed than their meat counterparts, compiling mainly of whole-food ingredients. Today’s substitutes by comparison are much better imitations of animal products.  They aim to enable you to have the same experience of eating meat but in a plant based version. 

This realism however in emerging meat substitutes is a result of the over-processing of plant-based ingredients. It is especially prevalent in the alternative products used by fast food restaurants. Many are made with highly processed ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, processed sugars like dextrose, along with a high salt content to improve their flavour. It’s not to say that these are any worse than your traditional fast food meats and animal products. But rather to suggest that just because some of these alternatives fall under the plant-based label, they should not be automatically considered good for your health. 

Considering a Whole Foods Diet Instead?

There is however a third option you can try if both health and the environment are a priority for you. It involves eating only whole-plant foods. Meaning removing anything that has been overly processed, including plant based alternatives. Approaching eating this way can seem like a daunting task, as it requires you to look at a meal’s components in a different way. Plant-based foods become not just the side dish but the main component. Using the likes of lentils, tofu and legumes can be a great way to achieve your desired intake of protein, without the additional processed hydrogenated oils and sugars. 

The more you can include whole-plant foods into your diet the more you will reap the health benefits. Whilst consuming only non-processed foods is likely the healthiest way of eating, it isn’t always practical. Cooking from scratch can take time. Therefore, using a combination of whole-plant foods along with plant-based meat substitutes can be a great and balanced way to eat when you are craving animal products. Whilst fast food substitutes will remain as their animal counterparts do, eaten only every once in a while to maintain good health. 

Alternatively using a meal prep service who will provide you with whole-foods will enable you to eat in the way you desire whilst also saving you the hassle of scratch cooking.  If you are looking for plant-based alternatives to conclude this Veganuary with, why not check out our vegan and vegetarian options on our menu.