Seeing more and more plant-based options in the meat section at your grocery store and wondering if they're actually good for you or not? Although many imitation meats are often healthier than their animal protein counterparts, you still want to be particular when it comes to choosing your brand. Here's why...plus, how to best fuel your workout with plants.
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Before we launch into what "fake meats" are and if they're a healthy option or not, let's review some terminology. Although the terms “vegan” and “plant based” are often used interchangeably, they aren't necessarily one in the same.
A vegan abstains from consuming animal products (like meat, dairy, eggs, even honey), or using any products that harm animals. A vegan will not wear leather, use household products that have been tested on animals, or support brands that destroy natural habitats through deforestation or other destructive practices.
And while there are plenty of healthy vegans, abstaining from animal products doesn't always mean one's diet is "healthy." There's a lot of vegan junk food from refined treats (like Oreos!) to some of the "fake" meats on the market. So although vegans may be health conscious, being vegan is an ethical practice.
(Psst...worried you're eating too much vegan junk food? Take our quiz to find out!)
Someone who is plant-based, generally abstains from consuming animal products, and they're shift in diet is usually driven by health reasons. These people also try to eat minimally processed foods, although it is not a requirement.
Someone who follows a whole-food plant-based diet eats as many whole plant foods as possible.
A whole food plant-based diet, like a vegan diet, does not include meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal products. However, it also steers clear from refined and processed foods (including foods that contain refined sugar or white flour), while focusing on whole foods.
For instance, they will choose brown rice over white rice, apples over apple juice, and refrain from consuming oil.
Whole-food, plant-based vegans do exist! They are fighting the good fight for ethical reasons while taking care of their bodies. And someone may go whole food plant-based for health reasons and wind up sticking with it for the animals, too.
Ok, so does this mean all fake meats fall into the vegan junk food bucket? Nope!
There's a ton of imitation meats on the market these days and there are indeed “fake” meats that fit into both the “vegan” and “whole food plant based” categories.
Let's start with some of the popular brands: The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have made national news the past two years. These options are plant based, but not vegan or whole food plant based. They are made without animal protein, but have not tested the product using ethical practices (making them not technically vegan), and are not made exclusively with whole ingredients (so they're not whole food plant-based, either).
These “fake meat brands” are cholesterol-free, but high in fat and processed ingredients. They may be healthier than their animal protein counterparts, but are not considered “clean eating” as they're pretty processed.
Does that mean you shouldn't eat these? That is totally up to you! These imitation meats are a fantastic transitioning tool for new vegetarians and vegans, and a healthy alternative for meat eaters looking for similar textures and flavors at the next cookout.
Looking for something that fits with your whole food plant-based lifestyle? Reach for a Mama's Burger next time you fire up the grill. Our burger is 100% whole-food plant based as it's made with only whole foods like zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, rolled oats, garbanzo beans, walnuts, garlic, and spinach. Not to mention, it's got tons of fiber and is extremely nutrient dense, which means you can feel really good about your next cookout.
Other minimally processed meat alternatives include organic tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, cauliflower, and eggplant. When spiced right, these veggies can have a meaty flavor. (New to plant-based eating? Don't miss these tips for grilling without oil here.)
These tips work best with walnuts, tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, lentils, and jackfruit.
Cook your desired vegetable in veggie broth with a little red wine vinegar until soft
1 tablespoon of Tamari or soy sauce
a teaspoon of garlic powder
a teaspoon of paprika
½ a teaspoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried dill
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
Cook your desired vegetable in veggie broth, and add a few dashes of poultry seasoning:
1 ½ teaspoons ground dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground dried marjoram
½ a teaspoon ground dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
½ a teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of dill
½ a teaspoon of celery seed
(optional) kelp flakes or crumbled nori to taste
Fake meats are often protein-rich, and sometimes even fortified with essential nutrients like B12. They can also be highly processed, sodium heavy, and loaded with oils -- all of which can cause inflammation. When choosing your meat replacement, make sure that the ingredients labels list only whole grains and ingredients. (Here are some great tips for reading nutrition labels.) If you're looking to forgo processed "fake" meats, try these as healthy meat alternatives to power your workout instead:
Get vegan athlete meals delivered to your door with the Peak Performance Bundle. Satisfy "meat" cravings with veggie burgers, breakfast sausage, and chili, all made with whole ingredients and formulated with vegan athletes in mind!
5 foods to improve muscle recovery