Fake meat vs animal meat: What’s healthier?

A new report has proven plant-based meats contain less saturated fat, sodium and calories, and more protein and fibre compared to animal meat. But how true is this? Dietitian Melissa Meier weighs in. 

As veganism is rising in popularity, so is the demand for plant-based meats. Meat-free alternatives are marketed as a healthy and environmentally-friendly substitute to traditional animal meats. But health experts have long warned that majority of them are just highly processed foods with better marketing.

However, despite the bad rap faux meats have received from experts, a new report has now found plant-based alternatives are actually nutritionally better or similar to their real meal equivalents.

Non-profit alternative meat think tank Food Frontier analysed the nutritional information and health rating of almost 100 plant-based meat products in Australia and New Zealand and compared them to their animal-based meat counterparts across six categories, including bacon, burgers, mince, sausages and schnitzels.

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The report found that on average, plant-based options contain a considerable amount of less saturated fat, more or comparable protein, and a lower or equivalent amount of kilojoules and sodium. They also are a source of dietary fibre, which animal meat is not.

Faux meats: good or bad?

So now we’re back to square one – are plant-based meats good or bad for you? We asked dietitian Melissa Meier to give insight into this ongoing health debate.

“Faux meats can be a convenient solution for those who wish to reduce their meat intake,” Meier explains.

“While they may seem like a healthy alternative, however, that’s not always the case, so I’d encourage you to carefully examine the nutrition information panel and ingredients list before adding a plant-based product to your trolley.”

She also suggests reading the ingredients list carefully, and especially look out for the saturated fat and sedum content.

“A healthy meat alternative is something made from legumes (like beans, chickpeas and lentils), other vegetables and/or wholegrains. Less healthy options are those made from highly refined ingredients like wheat gluten and soy protein isolate. The latter tend to be quite high in saturated fat and sodium, which isn’t good news for heart health.”

So…are faux meats really a healthier alternative to their animal meat counterpart?

“I wouldn’t recommend faux meats be a regular staple in your diet, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or otherwise. You’d be far better off upping your intake of plant-based whole foods (think: legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds) than swapping a piece of chicken or fish for a plant-based mock up.”

Case closed.