By Jennifer Molidor, PhD
Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
More Companies Jumping In<p>Traditional competitors are taking note.</p><p>Tyson Foods, well known for its chicken products, has introduced a new range of <a href="https://www.raisedandrooted.com/" target="_blank">plant-based nuggets</a>. Earlier this month, it also announced a <a href="https://www.tysonfoods.com/news/news-releases/2019/9/tyson-ventures-invests-new-wave-foods" target="_blank">new venture</a> to create plant-based shellfish. The company hopes to create a plant-based alternative to shrimp by 2020.</p><p>This fall, Kroger will be launching its own line of plant-based meats to appear alongside regular meats in stores.</p><p>Morningstar Farms, owned by Kellogg's, is also introducing a range of realistic plant-based meats under the name "Incogmeato."</p><p>Last week, Hormel Foods, famous for its Spam products, introduced a line of meat substitutes called <a href="https://www.hormelfoods.com/newsroom/press-releases/hormel-foods-announces-the-creation-and-launch-of-plant-forward-meat-alternative-happy-little-plants-brand-at-barclays-global-consumer-staples-conference/" target="_blank">Happy Little Plants</a>.</p>
Appealing to Consumers<p>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.</p><p>"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."</p><p>"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.</p><p>Wright says that easily accessible fake meats may also decrease the amount of meat Americans are eating.</p><p>"The typical American diet is still primarily 'meat and potatoes' based. According to the <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/92609/ldp-m-297.pdf?v=7042.8" target="_blank">U.S. Department of Agriculture</a>, 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.</p>
Are Fake Meats Healthy?<p>Some have raised concerns over the healthiness of fake meats.</p><p>The chief executive officer of Whole Foods says he <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/whole-foods-ceo-doesnt-think-much-of-plant-based-meat-alternatives" target="_blank">won't endorse</a> the products, citing the fact they're often highly processed.</p><p>It's a claim many of the experts who spoke with Healthline say is reasonable to keep in mind.</p><p>"Plant-based isn't always equivalent to healthy and I think that plant-based meats may be wearing a 'health halo,'" <a href="https://www.mcdanielnutrition.com/about-mcdaniel-nutrition/" target="_blank">Jennifer McDaniel</a>, 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."</p><p>"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.</p><p>"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.</p><p>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.</p><p>"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."</p><p>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.</p><p>"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.</p>
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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.
Increasingly popular, but is it better?<p>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.</p><p>According to KFC, the taste will be indistinguishable from real chicken.</p><p>"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 <a href="https://global.kfc.com/press-release/kfc-leads-as-first-national-us-qsr-to-test-plant-based-chicken-in-partnership-with-beyond-meat" target="_blank">statement</a>. "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!'"</p><p>And on its website, California-based Beyond Meat claims its plant-based products are <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">better</a> options that come without the <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/about/" target="_blank">health risks</a> associated with some kinds of meat.</p><p>But there is controversy regarding whether or not plant-based meat substitutes are healthier than meat sourced from animals.</p>
Not considered a complete protein<p>"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 <a href="https://www.purdueglobal.edu/degree-programs/health-sciences/nutrition-bachelors-degree-online/" target="_blank">Purdue University Global School of Health Sciences</a> in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Healthline.</p><p>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.</p><p>"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.</p>
Beyond Meat chicken is a processed food<p>A recent study <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l1949" target="_blank">published</a> 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>Beyond Meat products contain a broad range of food additives, including preservatives and a coloring agent, placing them squarely in this category.</p>
Wheat gluten can be an issue<p>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.</p><p>About one percent of the U.S. population lives with <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12016-018-8691-2" target="_blank">celiac disease</a> — an intestinal condition worsened by exposure to wheat gluten.</p><p>Another one percent of Americans experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) — a condition characterized by symptoms triggered by the introduction of gluten-containing foods.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29202198" target="_blank">Research</a> finds Gluten can adversely affect our gut bacteria (microbiome) and increase the risk of '<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313445/" target="_blank">leaky gut</a>' (when bacteria and toxins leak through the intestinal wall).</p><p>It also boosts an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body called <a href="https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/75/12/1046/4675264" target="_blank">oxidative stress</a> and trigger an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25287235" target="_blank">immune response</a>.</p><p>Wheat gluten can cause <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/signs-you-are-gluten-intolerant" target="_blank">symptoms</a> in people sensitive to it that include:</p><ul><li>Abdominal bloating</li><li>Diarrhea, constipation or smelly bowel movements</li><li>Abdominal pain</li><li>Headache</li></ul><p>Gluten may also increase the risk of obesity.</p><p>A recent mouse <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo2015204" target="_blank">study</a> 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.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.celiac.org/" target="_blank">Celiac Disease Foundation</a> has a symptoms assessment <a href="https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-assessment-tool/" target="_blank">tool</a> that can help you determine if symptoms you experience mean you have this condition.</p>
KFC’s plant-based chicken is fried<p>The association between fried food consumption and heart disease has been confirmed by numerous <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29447246" target="_blank">studies</a>. When asked if this impacted KFC's new Beyond Meat chicken offering, Julianne Penner, MS, RD, from the <a href="https://lluh.org/locations/loma-linda-university-international-heart-institute" target="_blank">Loma Linda University International Heart Institute</a> in Loma Linda, California was emphatic.</p><p>"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.</p><p>Young also added that breaded chicken means there's a significant carbohydrate component to the dish.</p><p>"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.</p><p>In addition to the carbohydrate, deep fried means lots of oil. KFC <a href="https://www.cropweek.com/presentations/2008/2008-jan09-canola-moore.pdf" target="_blank">switched</a> 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.</p>
The bottom line<p>KFC has partnered with Beyond Meat to test a new plant-based, fried chicken in one location in Atlanta, Georgia.</p><p>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.</p>
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By Ginger Vieira
Type 2 diabetes is far more complicated than simply having eaten too much sugar.
Processed Foods vs. Plant-Based Diet<p>The most immediate benefit of a plant-based diet on the prevention of type 2 diabetes is the impact that non-plant-based foods have on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.</p><p>However, research suggests the impact is actually broader.</p><p>"Plant-based diets may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes through lowering the risk of excess weight gain," the researchers noted.</p><p>"Multiple interventional and observational studies have indicated that increased consumption of plant-based foods can lead to short-term weight loss or prevention of long-term weight gain," explained the researchers. "In turn, it is likely that a considerable proportion of the protective association between plant-based diets and risk of type 2 diabetes can be attributable to weight control."</p><p>Experts in diabetes care and prevention agree.</p><p>"What if we had a world without processed food in it?" said <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/mara-schwartz-17536b3b/" target="_blank">Mara Schwartz</a>, CDE, RN, a coordinator of the Diabetes Prevention Program at Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, South Carolina. "We wouldn't have the weight problems we have now if it weren't for processed food. It would be very difficult to become obese while eating a whole-food, plant-based diet."</p><p>Indulging in a bag of chips and a milkshake is a lot easier than eating a bowl of homemade whipped cream with fresh blueberries and strawberries.</p><p>In Schwartz's work, she has seen the difference in outcomes when a client commits to changing their nutrition habits.</p><p>"People truly have to understand that what they put in their mouth affects their health," Schwartz, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for decades, told Healthline. "You're gonna have to commit to yourselves and acknowledge that your current diet is hurting you."</p><p>The recent research recommends focusing on a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.</p><p>"Moreover, refined grains, starches, and sugars can also be characterized as plant-based, although they are independently associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes," the researchers said.</p><p>The study also found a "protective" association against the development of type 2 diabetes when people consumed higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants through plant foods and lower amounts of red meats and processed meats.</p><p>The study doesn't advise against eating healthier animal products, such as organic eggs, and lean proteins, like chicken, turkey, and pork.</p>
It Isn’t Just Insulin Resistance<p>The short-term and long-term effects of an unhealthy diet actually create a more serious problem with metabolism, cravings, and relationship with food.</p><p>Schwartz points to Susan Peirce Thompson, author of the book, "<a href="https://susanpeircethompson.com/bright-line-eating/" target="_blank">Bright Line Eating</a>," who explained the destructive cycle that junk-quality food has on several aspects of the hormones related to our cravings and body weight.</p><p>"By eating the wrong foods, we increase our insulin levels," said Schwartz. "Increased insulin levels actually block the production of leptin."</p><p>Leptin is a lesser-discussed but crucial part of managing your appetite. It's a hormone produced by your body's fat cells and your small intestines. Its primary role is to regulate your appetite by signaling to your brain that you're full.</p><p>When a person develops "leptin resistance" from excessive amounts of leptin in their system along with insulin resistance, your brain thinks you're starving, creating an insatiable type of hunger that leads to mindless eating, craving junk food, and eating more processed carbohydrates.</p><p>Reversing this starts with making major changes in your diet by reducing heavily processed, packaged foods and focusing every meal on whole foods.</p>
Getting Started<p>Transitioning to a plant-based diet doesn't require a costly diet program, buying "diet" products, or learning how to cook a variety of time-intensive, complicated meals.</p><p>Instead, start with a look at the nutrition labels on the packages of the processed foods you currently eat.</p><p>"If you can't pronounce half of the things on the list of ingredients, you shouldn't be eating it," advised Schwartz. "If you were cooking a meal with whole foods, you wouldn't go to the store and also buy common <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-food-additives" target="_blank">additives</a> like Yellow 5 or sodium benzoate or carrageenan to put into that meal."</p><p>Processed foods, reminded Schwartz, were made for convenience and for profit, but few are actually healthy. Just because a box of cookies is labeled as organic doesn't mean it's not still a processed, packaged item void of any valuable nutrition.</p><p>Schwartz also cautions against filling your diet with vegan "plant-based" products such as frozen vegan meats.</p><p>"Sometimes when people follow a vegan diet, they're eating a lot of processed foods that are no better for you than a greasy burger. Just because something is vegan doesn't mean it's automatically healthy if it's loaded with highly processed ingredients like soy protein isolate, and a slew of preservatives, added flavors, chemicals, and tons of sodium," she said.</p><p>And it's important not to fall for advertising phrases such as "whole-grain" or "low-fat" on the packaging.</p><p>"Even a whole-wheat pasta is heavily processed. If it was truly whole wheat, you'd see chunks of actual wheat in there — and you don't because it's been broken down through processing, combined with a variety of additives, and packaged to make you think it's a whole food," Schwartz explained.</p><p>A low-fat, whole-wheat English muffin, for example, is still a heavily processed product that offers little to no original vitamins, minerals, or quality nutrition. It's made of processed flour and more than a dozen additives to make it taste good.</p><p>But what should you eat instead?</p>
This Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated<p>"It doesn't take that much more time to make something that's not processed. You can buy riced cauliflower and spiralized zucchini noodles ready-to-go at the store these days," said Schwartz.</p><p>Breakfast could be eggs, berries, and a serving of whole oats, or a lower-carb option of almonds.</p><p>Lunch could be a giant bowl of greens with a serving of black beans, cucumber, chicken, and a careful serving of your favorite salad dressing.</p><p>You can make simple swaps for high-starch or highly processed grains, for example, including wild rice instead of white rice and farro or quinoa instead of pasta.</p><p>Sweet potato or brown rice may be high in carbohydrates — something to be careful about as a person with diabetes, since carbohydrates are the first macronutrient with the biggest impact on blood sugar levels — but they'll still offer far more nutrition and less of a blood sugar spike compared to processed bread and pasta.</p><p>If you do still want some pasta, Schwartz suggests quickly sautéing a variety of vegetables and then adding a small amount of pasta to the plate. Even though the goal is to focus on eating more vegetables, that doesn't mean it has to be entirely vegetables.</p><p>"It's very hard to overeat a healthy meal because the fiber from the vegetables is so filling," she said.</p><p>And the vegetables don't have to always have been freshly diced — a simple bag of frozen microwave vegetables is still better for you than a bag of chips.</p>
What About Carbohydrates?<p>Typically, when you significantly reduce or remove animal products from your diet, you inevitably increase the amount of carbohydrate you're eating in order to still consume adequate calories.</p><p>For those with diabetes, even the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/diabetes-carbs-per-day" target="_blank">American Diabetes Association</a> has reversed its stance on low-carbohydrate diets as a tool for improving blood sugar levels. The organization now recommends a lower-carb approach.</p><p>Schwartz avoids carbohydrates in her personal diabetes nutrition management because she feels eating them simply leads her to crave more carbs, never feeling fully satisfied.</p><p>Other experts in diabetes care agree that a plant-based diet that includes too many servings of carbohydrates isn't the best option.</p><p>"I do not feel grains are a healthy choice for a diabetic,"<a href="https://drattar.com/" target="_blank"> Ryan Attar</a>, ND, MS, who lives with type 1 diabetes and has devoted his healthcare work at the <a href="https://www.connecticutintegrativemedicalcenter.com/our-practice" target="_blank">Connecticut Integrative Medical Center</a> to helping the diabetes population.</p><p>"What do grains offer our bodies? Very energy-dense, carbohydrate-dense foods, which have very little nutrient value. The amount of nutrients in grains are so low that by law grains must be fortified," Attar told Healthline.</p><p>Attar compared grains in general to a long chain of glucose molecules paired with a list of synthetic vitamins added to it.</p><p>He also argued that choosing brown rice over white won't have a big impact on how significantly it spikes your blood sugar.</p><p>"The amount of increased fiber and nutrients in whole grains is very small. Take a look at white versus brown rice. Both have the same amount of carbohydrates, 45 grams in 1 cup. The brown rice has 3 grams more fiber than white rice. Leaving you 41.5 grams of starchy carbohydrate versus 44.4 in white rice," he said.</p><p>Attar suggests nixing grains from your diet completely but still striving to eat a diet largely focused on plants.</p><p>"Get those nutrients from eating more non-starchy leafy greens instead," he said.</p>
Blurry Lines of a ‘Healthy’ Diet<p>A plate full of plant-based food can still contribute to being overweight and higher blood sugar levels if you're not being mindful about how much you're eating.</p><p>"Portions do matter, no matter what you're eating," said Schwartz. "If you're eating a 12-ounce steak with three cups of mashed potatoes and a huge wallop of blue cheese dressing on your side salad, you're overdoing it."</p><p>Instead, cut the steak in half, swap the potatoes — or at least most of the potatoes — for greens. Keep the dressing on the side to dip your fork into instead of covering the salad with it.</p><p>"Eating something in moderation is also a very vague plan," said Schwartz, who often sees her clients struggle with using this common terminology to include less-than-healthy items in their diet too frequently.</p>
Committing to a Plant-Based Diet<p>"The difference between the patients who succeed in improving their blood sugars and the patients who don't often comes down to a willingness to commit and make changes," said Schwartz.</p><p>"There's always an excuse if you let yourself make one for choosing junky processed food over real food. I've had a stressful day. I was hungry and the cafeteria was closed. I was at a party. I didn't say no to cake because I might offend someone. It's too expensive to eat healthy."</p><p>If you can afford cigarettes, Netflix, or fast food, you can afford healthier food.</p><p>"You learn how to eat from how you were raised, but you can change those habits, too. Take more ownership over the fact that you do have control over what you put in your mouth," said Schwartz.</p><p><em>Ginger Vieira is an expert patient living with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and fibromyalgia. Find her diabetes books on <a href="https://aax-us-east.amazon-adsystem.com/x/c/Qqcx2FBqcSN_IyEfr8nKMbkAAAFhnCPviwEAAAFKASBmvVA/https:/www.amazon.com/Ginger-Vieira/e/B008ZPEGQ6/ref=as_at/?creativeASIN=B008ZPEGQ6&linkCode=w61&imprToken=edJ9wiHiRxOH5RCZ4KJsaA&slotNum=1" target="_blank">Amazon</a>, and connect with her on </em><a href="https://twitter.com/GingerVieira" target="_blank"><em>Twitter</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/gingervieira" target="_blank"><em>YouTube</em></a><em>.</em></p>
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By Melissa Kravitz
Fried chicken, bacon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza aren't uncommon to see on vegan menus—or even the meat-free freezer section of your local supermarket—but should we be calling these mock meat dishes the same names? A new Missouri law doesn't think so. The state's law, which forbids "misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry," has led to a contentious ethical, legal and linguistic debate. Four organizations—Tofurky, the Good Food Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund—are now suing the state on the basis that not only is the law against the U.S. Constitution, but it favors meat producers for unfair market competition.
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