Hormel, Kellogg’s Getting Into the Plant-Based Meat Business
By Elizabeth Pratt
- Hormel, Kellogg's, and Kroger are among the large companies now planning to offer "fake meat" products at grocery stores.
- Experts say the trend toward plant-based meats coincides with consumers' desires to eat less meat.
- However, experts urge consumers to closely check package labels as a product isn't necessarily healthy just because it's described as plant-based.
In grocery stores and fast-food outlets around the U.S., a revolution is taking place.
Alternatives to meat may not be new, but recent improvements to the products, such as fake meats that really "bleed" and fake chicken that tastes like the real thing, have led to a surge in popularity of faux meats.
Now, traditional food companies such as Kellogg's, Tyson, and Kroger are also jumping on the fake meat bandwagon.
"Plant-based meat products have become a hot item in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. With the growing interest in flexitarianism, or incorporating more vegetarian options into their diet, this trend doesn't surprise me," Lauri Wright, PhD, an assistant professor in public health at the University of South Florida, told Healthline.
"I view increased access to more plant-based food options as very positive both for our health and the health of the environment," she said. "Alternative meat products have been around for years. What is different now is the growing variety of products and improved taste, which I think means this is a trend that is here to stay."
The rise of alternative proteins into the mainstream diet has seen big name outlets partner with companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Burgers to make faux meats easily accessible for consumers.
Consumers can now buy Impossible Foods and Beyond Burgers in grocery stores as well as at fast-food restaurants.
More Companies Jumping In
Traditional competitors are taking note.
Tyson Foods, well known for its chicken products, has introduced a new range of plant-based nuggets. Earlier this month, it also announced a new venture to create plant-based shellfish. The company hopes to create a plant-based alternative to shrimp by 2020.
This fall, Kroger will be launching its own line of plant-based meats to appear alongside regular meats in stores.
Morningstar Farms, owned by Kellogg's, is also introducing a range of realistic plant-based meats under the name "Incogmeato."
Last week, Hormel Foods, famous for its Spam products, introduced a line of meat substitutes called Happy Little Plants.
Appealing to Consumers
The new products are a move Dana Hunnes, PhD, a senior dietitian at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, says will appeal to a growing number of people interested in plant-based diets.
"People want their cake and get to eat it, too," she told Healthline. "People want to eat meat but also want to eat it in a healthier/better-for-the-planet sort of way. These new fake meats are a perfect mixture of meaty flavor, meaty texture, and are good for the Earth."
"I think with younger generations going on the bandwagon of eating more plant-based and trying to protect the environment, as climate change is becoming ever more serious, these fake meats are the opportunity people have been looking for to still eat 'meat' without doing all the damage," Hunnes added.
Wright says that easily accessible fake meats may also decrease the amount of meat Americans are eating.
"The typical American diet is still primarily 'meat and potatoes' based. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consumed over 200 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018. That translates into 10 ounces per day, which is twice the amount recommended by health agencies. Increased access to plant-based meats could help decrease the intake of meat while increasing vegetable consumption," she said.
Are Fake Meats Healthy?
Some have raised concerns over the healthiness of fake meats.
The chief executive officer of Whole Foods says he won't endorse the products, citing the fact they're often highly processed.
It's a claim many of the experts who spoke with Healthline say is reasonable to keep in mind.
"Plant-based isn't always equivalent to healthy and I think that plant-based meats may be wearing a 'health halo,'" Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, told Healthline. "If a consumer doesn't read the nutrition facts label or ingredient list, these plant-based meats may be misleadingly healthier than they actually are. It is important to remember that just because a food is plant-based doesn't mean it is healthy or healthier than its meat counterpart."
"Consumers should look for products that use more whole ingredients like beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables compared to the more ultra-processed ingredients," she said.
"Overall, the less-processed forms of plant-based meat alternatives are ideal. Consumers should also compare sodium when choosing plant-based meats. In a chart comparing plant-based burgers to a beef burger, there was almost five times more sodium in the plant-based option versus the beef," she added.
Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees. She says there are many ways people can incorporate healthy meat-free options in their own kitchen.
"Fake meats are no substitute for minimally processed, whole, plant foods," she told Healthline. "Plant proteins like beans, lentils, and soy including tofu and tempeh promote health and prevent chronic disease… it's easy to find recipes that use these foods or foods like eggplant, jackfruit, mushrooms, potatoes, cauliflower, and quinoa to replace meat in dishes from tacos to burgers, lasagna to chili. Your imagination is your only limitation."
But as more and more people introduce meat-free Monday and more plant-based options to their diets, she says it makes sense for companies to embrace changing attitudes toward meat.
"As the world's population explodes, the food supply will be stressed. Large food companies and food distributors play an integral role in the adaptations that will need to be made. It's simply good business sense to offer food options that will be key in this transition. Americans' appetite are changing — they're demanding and enjoying products made from plants that resemble foods, like meat, that are familiar to them," she said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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