Coronary diseases are one of the biggest killers in America. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every 37 seconds an American dies of a heart attack. About half (47%) of Americans are suffering from high cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking, three of the commonest risk factors of heart disease. (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm)
Heart disease is caused by the build-up of plaque (cholesterol deposits) in the arteries impeding the flow of blood. A heart attack is caused when a clot in an artery blocks the blood flow starving the heart of nutrition triggering a heart attack.
This cholesterol in the blood comes from food. Meat is rich in protein but is full of cholesterol. Beef has 21%, chicken 29% of cholesterol even though these are rich in protein – the values beings 38% and 34% respectively. (nutritionvalue.org). Soy on the other hand will provide us 76% and Red beans 62% of protein with lots of fiber and no cholesterol.
Americans purchase fresh meat about 27 times per year. Read-to-eat meat/poultry is extremely popular. 40% of people eat ready-to-eat meat at least once a week as of 2017 (Statistica.com).
There is a vast amount of scientific literature that informs us that cholesterol-rich food is one of the primary causes of high incidences of heart disease. It also informs us that plant-based foods do not have cholesterol, and are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are an excellent alternate source for protein, and overall are good for our health.
Despite these facts, Americans continue to load themselves with chicken, meat, dairy, and carbohydrates. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, just 5% of Americans considered themselves vegetarians. Only 2% of older Americans of the age 55 and higher self-declared themselves as vegetarians. It is the older Americans who are most vulnerable to heart disease.
With the realization that the solution to many of our health problems lies in food, change is coming. Vegetarian options for a diet of meat and fish are being developed. Read-to-eat options are now available on store shelves. These are coming from food innovators. These new plant-based products are called plant-based meats. They look and taste like meat.
US soy-based meat has a significant resemblance to cooked ground beef. These options, in comparison, have a much lower fat content while being amongst the richest sources of protein. These are high in dietary fiber. Pea protein products are meat substitutes for customers suffering from food allergies and need gluten-free food options. These are emerging as beef substitutes. Plant-based chicken meat products would have a combination of soy, pea, flour, oil, and seasoning.
Plant-based meat products are catching the attention of healthy food consumers. The US Plant-Based Meat Market is likely to cross $4.16 billion according to estimates presented by the Global Market Insights, Inc. Compared to the tardy growth being shown by the vegan industry, plant-based meat is registering a growth of more than 25% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate).
People understand that plant-based food is healthier and more environmentally friendly but the transition from a pure animal-based diet to a diet that tastes different, looks different and smells different is too big and daunting a change. Plant-based meat innovations are fulfilling a nutritional need of that growing section of people who find it difficult to make a switch from meat products to a pure plant-based, dairy-free, and fresh product diet.
Let us now address the critical question – are plant-based meats healthier than animal-based products?
Our body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Nine of these are classified as essential. These cannot be made by the body and need to come from food. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Most people are acquiring these amino acids from animal-based products.
Soy, quinoa, and buckwheat are plant-based foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. (Michelfelder, A.J., 2009) Consuming these you not just avoid the high cholesterol of chicken, fish, and beef but also get fiber and other nutrients.
The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 30 grams per day of fiber. Most adults, because of no fiber meat-based food clock just 15 grams per day. Plant-based meats have emerged as great options for making up this deficiency, enjoying your food, and staying healthy.
There are non-essential amino acids that are often classified as conditionally essential but become essential when the body is ill or is under stress. Arginine amino acid for instance is nonessential but critical to fighting certain diseases like cancer. (Ananieva, E., 2005). This amino acid is not produced by the body and must be supplemented from the diet. The plant-based sources of arginine are soybean, pumpkin seeds, spirulina to name a few.
From a functional perspective, all amino acids are essential. As the role of various amino acids is being better understood the classification of amino acids into indispensable (or essential) and dispensable (or nonessential) at the metabolic level is now increasingly blurred. (Reeds, P.J., 2000).
Many of the hitherto classified nonessential amino acids but are nutritionally important can only be procured from plant-based foods. Each plant protein offers a different amino-acid providing you a wider, healthier, and more nutritious food option. The options are nutrient-dense, blended protein options that come in from diverse sources from seeds, seaweed, nuts, beans, pulses, and grain.
As the major impediments to the growth of plant-based meats like texture and taste are getting addressed by innovative plant-based meat product producers. The health advantages offered by a new line of products is becoming evident to consumers.
The diversity of plant life will keep food innovators in the plant-based meat world busy for many years to come. Customers are just getting the flavor of these innovative food products which are not just healthier but also taste just like the chicken nugget or the steak that you so love. The party for us consumers has just begun.
Ananieva, E. (2015). Targeting amino acid metabolism in cancer growth and anti-tumor immune response. World journal of biological chemistry, 6(4), 281
Michelfelder, A. J. (2009). Soy: a complete source of protein. American family physician, 79(1), 43-47.
Reeds, P. J. (2000). Dispensable and indispensable amino acids for humans. The Journal of Nutrition, 130(7), 1835S-1840S.
Author of the article:
Sudhir Ahluwalia is the President of Sudhirahluwalia.Inc, He is an author of four books and three video books on herbs and nutrition. He is a business consultant by profession.