Are plant-based burgers really that good for you?

It may seem great to have a meat substitute considering the environment, but is this heavily-processed food good for you? Here is expert advice.

The vegan craze

Over the past five years, veganism in the UK has quadrupled, and nearly a quarter of new food launches in 2019 were plant-based. From shroomballs to ‘sheese’-burgers, the plant-based lifestyle has continued to gain dominance, with more people doing away with meat and embracing being vegan.

The United Nations recently released a report detailing the ‘code red’ climate crisis, revealing that a shift to vegan eating is the main way consumers can hope to reduce the spread of carbon emissions.

With committed carnivores now looking to reduce their meat intake—92 per cent of meat-free meals were consumed by non-vegans in 2018—substitutes have become popular in supermarkets, pub and restaurant menus and even takeaways. All across the country, summer barbecues are being increasingly infiltrated by cauli-wings and mushroom steaks.

Plant-based eating is all very well if you’re whipping up a sweet potato curry from scratch, say, or an aubergine daal, but experts point out that the ever-growing range of processed meat substitutes are not as perfectly healthy as they might seem.

Far from the full picture

With ingredient lists sometimes stretching into the dozens, the ‘health halo’ plastered over meat alternatives—which encourages people to purchase them more frequently—is far from the full picture.

Dr Giles Yeo MBE, principal research associate at Cambridge University’s Metabolic Research Lab, explains:

You can be an unhealthy vegan, easily.

Analysis from campaign group Action on Salt has shown that many meat replacements have twice the salt content of their meaty alternatives, with the worst offenders being ‘saltier than seawater.’

In reality, many of the top brands on the meat-free market, which has doubled in size over the last five years, are in fact ultra-processed foods (or UPFs)—a category of growing concern for the nation’s health. More than half of the calories eaten in Britain come from these products, defined as containing ingredients you wouldn’t find in your fridge or kitchen cupboards.

Research shows consumption of UPFs significantly increases the risk of you dying young; they’re associated with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression and heart disease, among other conditions.

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