What is plant based meat anyway?

What is plant based meat? Plant based meat is a meat substitute that is made of plant based products – think mushrooms, tofu, wheat, etc. The plant based meat is often formed into a shape that resembles the meat it is copying, for example ‘plant based nuggets’ instead of ‘chicken nuggets’ or ‘plant based mince’ instead of ‘ground beef mince’. 

Is plant based meat healthy for you and your family and what is it made of? Should it be part of a vegetarian or vegan diet? And just how sustainable are plant based meat products? 

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What is plant based meat made of?

Plant based meat is made of different ingredients depending on the brand. They can be made of mycoprotein, pea protein or soy protein. 

One of the best known plant based meat brands is Quorn Foods. They’ve been making meat based alternatives since the 1960s. Quorn® is made of mycoprotein. Mycoprotein starts with a natural fungus called Fusarium venenatum and it is then fermented to grow Quorn. 

Quorn is what is called a texturized vegetable protein (TVP). It is high in fiber and low in saturated fat. 100g of Quorn mince contains 13g of protein, whereas beef mince contains 14g (USDA). 

Quorn for cooking comes in many familiar meat formats, ‘fish’ fingers, ‘chicken’ nuggets, ‘chicken’ filets, burgers, mince, and sausages. Quorn deli products include ham-, chicken- and beef- free slices,  flavored ‘chicken’ filets, vegan ‘pepperoni’, Quorn sausage rolls, Quorn picnic eggs, and more. 

Quorn uses 40x less Co2 than beef mince production, according to Quorn’s own 2022 comparison footprint report. The products are certified by the Carbon Trust. Beef mince in the UK uses 32.13 kg of Co2 per kg and Quorn mince uses 1.29 kg of Co2 per kg.  

Beyond Meat has been on a mission to make more sustainable plant based foods since 2009. They use pea protein and brown rice in their foods to supply the protein content. Peas provide protein, fiber and vitamins and are low fat and low cholesterol. 

Beyond Meat makes plant based meat burgers, mince, meatballs and sausages. The burgers have 19g of protein per 100g serving and the mince has 15g of protein per 100g serving. 

Peas are also very sustainable, creating only 0.49 kg of Co2 per kg produced. They also improve the soils that they are grown in. 

Impossible Foods are new on the plant based meat marketplace. They launched in 2016 with the Impossible™ Burger* in the United States. They use soy as their plant protein. Aside from being a good source of vitamins, fiber, potassium and magnesium, soy is called a complete protein as it has all the essential amino acids needed in a healthy diet. Soy is a bit controversial but claims that it causes breast cancer, thyroid problems and dementia have not been substantiated. 

Impossible Foods make plant based meat burgers, sausages, nuggets and ‘pork’ products. Most are available in the U.S. but only a few are available in the UK at the time of writing. The burgers have 19g of protein per 4 ounce serving and the sausages have 13g of protein per 100g serving. 

Soy is partly sustainable. High soy demand and production have caused soil erosion and deforestation according to the World Wildlife Fund. 80% of soy is produced in the US, Argentina and Brazil.  

Is plant based meat vegetarian or vegan?

The short answer to the question ‘is plant based meat vegetarian or vegan’ is it depends on what the plant base has been mixed with during the production process. For example, mycoprotein hyphae can be mixed with egg or milk, vegetable fat, and any flavorings that will be added, usually in a 90:10 ratio. 

Quorn produces both vegetarian and vegan foods. Quorn mince for example is mixed with egg white, pea fiber, sugar and firming agents. This means the mince is not vegan or strictly vegetarian but other products are. For example, Quorn Vegan Pieces contain only mycoprotein, potato protein, pea protein, firming agents and stabilizers. 

Beyond Meat plant based meat burgers and mince are both vegan. The burgers contain water, pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil, rice protein, potato starch, salt, maltodextrin, flavorings, stabilizers and emulsifiers. Fat content is 19g per 100g before cooking. 

Beyond Meat’s plant based meat mince contains water, pea protein, rapeseed oil, coconut oil, rice protein, potato starch, salt, maltodextrin, flavorings, stabilizers and emulsifiers. Fat content is 17g per 100g serving before cooking. 

Both Beyond Meat’s burgers and mince include maltodextrin as a sweetener which can cause a blood sugar spike. 

The Impossible Burger is 100% animal free & vegan. It contains water, soy protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, flavors & 2% or less of potato protein, thickeners, salt, soy derivatives, flavors, vitamins and antioxidants. It has 14g of fat per 4 ounce (113g) serving. 

Is plant based meat healthy?

Is plant based meat healthy for your family to eat? The answer to this question is it depends on what the plant based meat is mixed with and how it is processed. 

We know that the main culprits for healthy eating are:

  • Fried foods that are fatty
  • Foods that are low in fiber and have been overly processed
  • Foods that have added sugar or salt to make them taste good

No fried food, carbohydrate heavy meal or overly processed food is ever going to be good for you. In the same way that cold meats and bacon that are heavily processed and fatty are bad for you, a plant based meat that has no fiber and lots of fillers or fats will be bad for you too. Added sugar and salt is a big problem in ready meals, so always check the label for the ingredients. 

A healthy diet always contains a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Eating more freshly prepared vegetables is the best way to improve your family’s diet. 

Should I swap to a plant based meat? 

There are good reasons to swap to an alternative protein source and reduce our meat intake. Eating large quantities of meat is not good for our hearts and health nor is it good for the environment. Meat production produces high quantities of Co2 emissions and so reducing meat consumption will reduce greenhouse gasses. 

Swapping to a plant based meat is one option that is convenient and easy to try out. That said, plant based meat is only healthy if it is not mixed with other unhealthy ingredients like fats, sugar and salt. Heavily processed plant based meats will not provide the fiber needed for a healthy diet. Always check ready meal ingredient labels for unhealthy additives and make a judgment call about how heavily processed food is before buying it for your family.