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KFC Is Going ‘Beyond Meat’ — but Is It Healthy?

Health + Wellness
KFC tests meatless chicken wings and nuggets in US

By George Citroner

With the growing popularity of meat-free eating, U.S. restaurant chain KFC has partnered with Beyond Meat to test a new plant-based "fried chicken" offering.


Only available as part of an exclusive one-restaurant test that started August 27 in an Atlanta, Georgia, location, customer response will determine if the new item becomes a fixture on KFC menus nationwide.

But as a heavily processed food, is fried, plant-based "meat" actually healthy to eat?

Increasingly popular, but is it better?

Meat alternatives are becoming an increasingly popular option in supermarkets and restaurants across the U.S. as people grow more concerned about health and the environmental impact of meat consumption.

According to KFC, the taste will be indistinguishable from real chicken.

"KFC Beyond Fried Chicken is so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it's plant-based," said Kevin Hochman, KFC U.S. president and chief concept officer, in a statement. "I think we've all heard 'it tastes like chicken' – well our customers are going to be amazed and say, 'it tastes like Kentucky Fried Chicken!'"

And on its website, California-based Beyond Meat claims its plant-based products are better options that come without the health risks associated with some kinds of meat.

But there is controversy regarding whether or not plant-based meat substitutes are healthier than meat sourced from animals.

Not considered a complete protein

"While there are many positive benefits to choosing vegan/vegetarian protein choices, like no cholesterol, lower total fat, animal rights issues, and environmental impacts, it's important to note that plant-sourced proteins don't provide all the essential amino acids. Plant sourced proteins are not considered complete proteins in the world of nutrition," Leslie Young, MA, RDN, and professor of nutrition at Purdue University Global School of Health Sciences in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Healthline.

Young pointed out for a balanced diet without meat, vegans or vegetarians need to find multiple types of protein sources to ensure they don't miss out on key nutrients.

"However, if the consumer seeks this out as their new, sole source of protein or if portions sizes aren't kept in check, then some nutritional risks may need to be assessed," Young said.

Beyond Meat chicken is a processed food

A recent study published in May in the British Medical Journal found a link between eating "ultra-processed" food and the risk of cardiovascular conditions. Researchers defined these foods as including baked goods, soft drinks, ready-made meals, and even dehydrated vegetable soups.

The findings suggested that for every 10 percent increase in the quantity of ultra-processed foods participants ate, their risk of cardiovascular disease rose by 12 percent, with similar increases in risk of heart and cerebrovascular disease.

Beyond Meat products contain a broad range of food additives, including preservatives and a coloring agent, placing them squarely in this category.

Wheat gluten can be an issue

Gluten is a plant protein found in wheat and some other grains; it's made up of two molecules called glutenin and gliadin. With water, these substances form the elastic bond that gives bread and other processed foods a stretchy and spongy consistency.

About one percent of the U.S. population lives with celiac disease — an intestinal condition worsened by exposure to wheat gluten.

Another one percent of Americans experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) — a condition characterized by symptoms triggered by the introduction of gluten-containing foods.

Research finds Gluten can adversely affect our gut bacteria (microbiome) and increase the risk of 'leaky gut' (when bacteria and toxins leak through the intestinal wall).

It also boosts an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body called oxidative stress and trigger an immune response.

Wheat gluten can cause symptoms in people sensitive to it that include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Diarrhea, constipation or smelly bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache

Gluten may also increase the risk of obesity.

A recent mouse study found gluten-eating mice ended up with 20 percent greater body weight and 30 percent higher fat deposits in than the animals fed a gluten-free diet.

The Celiac Disease Foundation has a symptoms assessment tool that can help you determine if symptoms you experience mean you have this condition.

KFC’s plant-based chicken is fried

The association between fried food consumption and heart disease has been confirmed by numerous studies. When asked if this impacted KFC's new Beyond Meat chicken offering, Julianne Penner, MS, RD, from the Loma Linda University International Heart Institute in Loma Linda, California was emphatic.

"I wouldn't consider it healthy, but it may be somewhat less harmful. I'm not sure what kind of oil KFC uses for frying or if it's the same oil that will be used for the Beyond Chicken, but I would assume that it's unhealthy oil," Penner said.

Young also added that breaded chicken means there's a significant carbohydrate component to the dish.

"Also, people with certain forms of diabetes need to be aware of the carbohydrate content of these meat alternative products. Most people associate fried meats as having little to no carbohydrates," Young added.

In addition to the carbohydrate, deep fried means lots of oil. KFC switched to canola oil for frying some years back in an effort to remove trans fats from their food. However, the latest evidence suggests that canola may not be the best for our health.

The bottom line

KFC has partnered with Beyond Meat to test a new plant-based, fried chicken in one location in Atlanta, Georgia.

Of the listed ingredients in Beyond Meat chicken, there may be concerns for the health conscious. Wheat gluten in the faux chicken product and it still breaded an deep-fried, which is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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