What do Beyonce, Lewis Hamilton and Natalie Portman have in common? They have all sworn off meat and become vegans.
It may seem as if they are the latest in a long line of people who are bowing at the altar of the newest food fads and trendy diets but going meat-less is not new. In fact, it dates back centuries.
Archaeologists say prehistoric man started off on a plant-based diet. Early Greeks referred to veganism as “abstinence from beings with a soul”. Ancient Egyptians were vegetarians. In 500BC, Pythagoras supported the idea of avoiding meat. In Asia, vegetarianism is associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, which means a meat-free diet was practised in the region as early as 2,300BC. Today, 22% of the world’s 7.8 billion people are vegetarians, according to a review published by the Economic and Social Research Institute.
Fuelling all this is the rise of meat substitutes in supermarkets and restaurants, a response to changing consumer perceptions and rising per capita incomes. Nielsen Product Insider Sales reported that meat substitutes grew 40% in 2018 compared to the previous year. Projections for the industry are optimistic. The alternative meat market is expected to be worth US$140 billion globally in the next decade, according to Barclays.
Given the buzz around meat substitutes, it is little wonder companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat which are making plant-based protein products for the masses are thriving. Beyond Meat which listed in May last year saw its stock go up more than 600% at one point.
Meat substitutes may never take over meat products. But the growing appetite for plant-based food cannot be ignored. Whether consumer or company, we would do well to find out more about these products that replace meat in our meals.
What are meat substitutes
Meat substitutes, also known as meat analogues are non-meat foods that approximate certain qualities – texture, taste or appearance – or chemical properties of meat.
Meat substitutes are not new. What is new is that the meat substitutes of today are not merely meat-less products but are meant to look, feel and taste like meat so much that they hope to replace meat for even meat-eating consumers. Opening up the market to more than just vegetable eaters is what is making this generation of meat alternatives different.
Why meat substitutes are gaining popularity
People are becoming more health conscious. The global health club industry alone generated nearly US$100 billion in 2019, up 8.7% from the year before. The fitness market is expected to hit US$106 billion this year. This drive towards a healthier lifestyle has meant a spike in demand for healthier food alternatives, including a plant-based diet.
Rising obesity rates worldwide and other health concerns like increase in cholesterol levels have also contributed to a greater demand for meat substitutes because they contain less saturated fat
Lab-grown meat is also thought to be safer for consumers because they are cultivated in sterile environments. This means that they do not contain antibiotics found in meat production. Overdosing on antibiotics can make the drug less effective in combating diseases in people.
In addition, there have been several global food scares related to meat including mad cow disease, bird flu and E coli. These have given meat a bad reputation.
As a result, in 2019, while the annual retail food market grew by 2.2%, plant-based foods surged up by 11.4%, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.
Ethical consumerism has been gaining traction especially among those in their early 20s to 30s. These young people demand food that are sustainably grown or sourced, socially conscious and environmentally friendly, and believe that meat substitutes tick all these boxes as opposed to meat products.
Some have gone meat-less also because they believe that eating meat is morally wrong because of its cruelty to animals and the suffering it causes them.
The advancement in food technology – cellular agriculture and molecular engineering – has made it possible to create a wider variety of meat substitutes, many of which replicate the flavour and texture of real meat. The introduction of such tech-enabled meat substitutes has given those who want to askew meat more choices beyond simply subsisting on vegetables, fruits and legumes.
Advances in ag tech has accelerated the growth of edible greens as well, allowing for the production of these plants to keep up with the demand.
All these have allowed restaurants and supermarkets to offer more plant-based choices, making meat substitutes more prevalent and accessible. This makes going meat-less easier and has added to the popularity of the meat substitutes trend.
The meat industry damages the environment more than agriculture. Livestock cultivation is one of the activities that contributes the most to the emission of greenhouse gases – an estimated 15% of all greenhouse gases.
Cows are the biggest culprits. Cows are ruminants. So, they ferment food in their stomachs during digestion. The process produces methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The methane is released into the environment along with nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide when the cow belches or flatulates, or from the cow manure. The emissions then form a layer over the earth that traps heat in the atmosphere causing deadly climate changes.
There is also the argument that simply eating plants, instead of growing these plants to feed the animals which we then eat, cuts out an extra step in the food chain. With the “middleman” gone, wastage is reduced.
Livestock production takes up a tremendous amount of land as well. In the US alone, 415 million acres or 18% of the land is reserved for permanent pastures for livestock. In the Amazon where the rainforest is vital to regulating the world’s oxygen and caron dioxide cycles, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of deforestation. This leads to habitat loss and the reduction of the “lungs of the Earth”.
Not only does animal agriculture require a lot of water, it also creates more opportunity for water pollution. Cattle grazing speeds up soil erosion, leading to waterways being choked. Excrement from the animals can spill into surrounding water sources or make their way into groundwater resulting in water pollution.
Plant agriculture uses less water than animal cultivation. Providing drinking water to the cattle aside, it takes a lot of water to produce the feed required to keep the animals alive. A pound of beef takes up to 4,000 gallons of water to produce. The average water footprint per gram of protein from beef is six times larger than that for legumes, says the Water Footprint Network in the US.
Plant-based food production produces smaller carbon footprints. An analysis of the Impossible Burger 2.0 found that its carbon footprint was 89% smaller than a regular beef burger. Its production also uses 87% less water and 96% less land.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned many industries upside down and the meat industry has not been spared. Closure of plants and restaurants has meant that supplies have been disrupted leading to higher prices of meat products.
This has led to consumers resorting to other sources of protein. According to Bloomberg, the plant-based meat industry saw sales surge 264% in the nine weeks that ended on May 2. Dairy alternatives rose as well. In the first week of March, oat milk sales were up 347% year-over-year even as demand for dairy dropped.
The numbers are still a small portion of meat sales but they represent a willingness for people to turn to meat substitutes.
6. Population growth
The world’s population is not only growing, they are increasingly moving to the cities. Approximately 55% of the world now live in urban settlements. By 2050, the number is expected to increase. 68% of the world’s 9.7 billion will live in cities, according to the United Nations.
The days are coming when the population will outpace food production. There is hope that by encouraging the meat substitutes industry, this gap in supply can be filled.
Types of meat-less diets
Those who choose a meat-free lifestyle fall within a wide spectrum. To make sense of it all, here is a glossary of terms related to a meat-less diet.
Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. This includes all animal meat including fish as well as eggs and dairy products. Honey or beeswax are avoided as well.
They also do not eat anything made with animal products even if the finished food does not contain animal products. So, they will not use gelatin because it contains collagen from animal skin, bone or connective tissues and ingredients that contain animal by-products. This means that certain candy like marshmallows and Jell-O are off their list of foods, too.
Some sugars are omitted from their diet too because they are made with bone char in the bleaching and filtering process. Even some wines are not consumed because they have “fining agents”– like milk protein, gelatin, and egg whites – that are used in the processing of the wine but are not actual ingredients of the wine.
Vegans also do not use products made from animals including leather, silk, wool, goose down and dyes from insects either in their wardrobe or cosmetics, and beauty and facial products. Even cosmetics tested on animals are avoided.
These are vegans who eat only raw vegan food – not heated above 46ºC – either because they believe it is healthier than cooked food or because they think it uses less energy. Raw vegans think that foods cooked above their preferred temperature lose their nutritional value and become harmful to the body.
Beegans are vegans who will eat honey.
These are vegans who will maintain a vegan diet unless the food is free, which means they source for these foods in the garbage thrown out by others. They do so to minimise food wastage.
Fruitarians eat only fruits and vegetables botanically classified as fruits such as tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and avocadoes. They also eat seeds and nuts.
Lacto vegetarians avoid all meats and eggs but will consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt.
Ovo vegetarians do not consumer all meats and dairy products but will eat eggs.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat all meats – red or white – including fish and seafood but will eat dairy and egg products. So, ice-cream, yoghurt and milk are fine for them. They are the most common types of vegetarians.
Pescatarians restrict their meat intake to fish and seafood, dairy and eggs. They are also called semi-vegetarians.
Pollotarians eat only poultry or fowl, avoiding red meats, fish and seafood.
Pesco Pollotarians do not eat red meat but will eat chicken and fish.
Flexitarians are those who are working to reduce their meat consumption. Largely vegetarians, they do on occasion eat meat and animal products. Some begin by going on a meat-free diet on certain days such as Meatless Mondays. Others do so for a longer period of time, for example practising Weekday Vegetarianism.
These are people who will only eat locally produced food. This cuts down the carbon footprint created when food is imported or has to travel long distances within the country to get to your table.
Those on this diet eat unprocessed vegan food such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as fish. They avoid all meats, sugars and refined oils.
Types of meat substitutes
Tofu is made from curdled soybeans. High in protein, calcium and packed with all the essential amino acids needed for a balanced diet, it has been an Asian staple for centuries.
Because it comes in different levels of firmness – extra firm, firm, soft – and has a neutral taste and an amazing ability to absorb flavours from spices and marinades, it is highly adaptable and can be substituted for pork, chicken, beef and seafood. It can be substituted for eggs as well and makes a good scrambled “eggs”.
Tofu has a high water content so it needs to be pressed before cooking. But once that is out of the way, tofu is quite versatile and can be steamed, fried, baked and grilled.
Some supermarkets even carry organic tofu for those who want to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods.
This fermented cousin of tofu is an Indonesian favourite. Also made from a soy product, the difference between tofu and tempeh is that tofu is made from soy milk while tempeh is made from whole soybeans that have gone through a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that presses the beans into cake form. Some tempeh contains a mixture of other beans or grains as well.
Because of the fermentation, tempeh is drier and firmer than tofu. Its grainier texture comes from the fact that whole beans are used which also lends tempeh a nutty flavour.
Tempeh is highly nutritious. It contains gut-friendly prebiotics because of the fermentation process. It is full of protein and fibre as well because whole beans are used, and rich in calcium, vitamins and anti-oxidants. Tempeh is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, and is a complete protein because it contains all nine amino acids. It has soy isoflavones which helps to lower cholesterol levels. All in all, it is considered one of the healthiest plant-based protein sources.
Unlike tofu, it does not require pressing before cooking, making it easy to prepare. It can be sliced up and fried, and eaten on its own, tossed into salads or made into a sandwich. In terms of its texture, tempeh makes a good fish substitute. Ground up, it can also replace minced beef in recipes. Thinly sliced, it can be fried or grilled to replace bacon strips.
This is another meat substitute from soy that has been fermented, much like tempeh. Natto is made by soaking whole soybeans then steaming or boiling them. A strain of beneficial bacteria called Bacillus subtilis is then added which makes the soybeans more easily digestible and breaks down the phytic and protease inhibitors in fresh soybeans that prevent protein digestion while binding the nutrients. The end product is then left to ferment.
It is a Japanese staple. Eaten by Samurais daily for centuries, the warriors attribute their strength and stamina to it. Natto may, however, be an acquired taste because of its strong smell and unique texture – chewy, stringy and stretchy like chewing gum.
An excellent source of protein because it is full of amino acids, it is also high in manganese, iron, copper and magnesium, providing half of the daily requirements in a single serving and contains Vitamin K which is good for healthy bones and blood clotting and which is usually found in animal foods like butter so vegans would otherwise miss out on it.
4. Textured Vegetable Protein
Textured Vegetable Protein or TVP is dehydrated soy that is made by separating the protein from whole soybean. The slurry of soybeans is mixed with an alkaline solution to remove the fibre which is separated from the protein through an acid wash. What results is a curd that is spray-dried at a high temperature. Finally, the protein powder that comes from this process is subjected to high temperature as well as high pressure in a machine known as an extruder.
TVP comes in granules or chucks. Because it has a texture very similar to ground beef, it can replace the meat in many recipes such as meatloaf, Bolognese sauce and Mexican chili. It can also be used as a meat extender to make a little meat go a long way. Much like tofu, TVP has a neutral taste and readily absorbs the flavour of the seasonings and marinades used to cook it. This adds to its versatility as a meat substitute.
As a soy protein, TVP contributes to the protein intake needed in our diets, a serious consideration for vegans whose constant concern is whether meat-less meals provide enough of their protein needs. The fact that it is low in calories, carbohydrates and fat is a bonus.
One minus of TVP is that it is highly processed. Processed foods are less healthy than whole foods because of the by-products that end up in the processed foods. The process used to make soy isolates – a highly refined or purified form of soy protein – results in the final product containing high levels of aluminium. Aluminium is toxic to the kidneys and nervous system. It also reduces the growth rate of brain cells.
Popular in Asia for centuries, seitan is made from processed wheat gluten. Some seitan products contain other ingredients like legumes or seasoning. During production, the starch from the wheat is removed by rinsing it with water so that the protein left behind is dense and chewy.
This texture makes it hold up well to different cooking methods including grilling, frying, pan-searing, stewing, braising and even baking. If bought from the store, it can be eaten without being cooked. Available in strips or ground up, its mild taste makes it is an excellent chicken, beef and pork substitute. Some say seitan taste remarkably like duck, too. Several mock meat products in Asia are made with seitan.
Though not for the gluten intolerant, seitan is great for vegans who want to avoid soya products. Seitan is another great source of protein and is also low in carbohydrates. It is high in riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6 as well.
6. Gluten-free vegan meat
If you are on a gluten-free diet and seitan is off the tables for you as a vegan, you can turn to gluten-free vegan meats.
One of them is V-Meat. This is a gluten-free meat substitute recipe available on the Internet. Using different types of flours – particularly high-protein ones like soy flour, amaranth flour and pea protein – and proteins such as oats as well as corn or tapioca starch, it begins as a dough-like substance that you can then shape and use. For a soy-free recipe, quinoa flour or rice flour can be used in place of soy flour.
V-Meat can be rolled into balls or logs, strung into links, sliced up into cutlets or slices, cut into chunks, and made into steaks and roasts. In terms of texture, this vegan meat substitute is very much like seitan but, because it is made without gluten, is admittedly not as chewy.
The original flavour of V-Meat is mild so you can flavour it in different ways to achieve various tastes. Chicken flavouring can be added to make V-Chicken. To make Italian V-Sausage, a variety of spices is added.
You would be surprised but several types of fruits can mimic the taste and texture of meat to quite a satisfying degree. Jackfruit is one of them.
The jackfruit is the largest fruit in the world, with the ability to weigh up to 55kg per fruit. A tropical fruit that is green and bumpy on the outside, when ripe it is filled with bright yellow seeds of fibrous flesh.
What is used as a meat substitute is not the ripened fruit but the unripe jackfruit which, though still sweet, has a milder taste and fragrance. The flesh of the unripen jackfruit tends to be starchy and stingier. When shredded, it has the texture of pulled pork or shredded chicken. This is a plus for vegans because while it is easy to get meat substitutes to taste like beef, getting it to taste like pulled pork is a lot tougher. Here, the jackfruit hits the right spot.
Sweet and mildly fragrant, it is best used for recipes that call for a little sweetness such as barbecue or Mexican cuisine. Jackfruit can be quite healthy. It is low in calories, rich in fibre and potassium, full of Vitamin C and contains less fat and cholesterol than pork or even other meat substitutes. Because of the nutrients found it jackfruit, the fruit can help improve immunity, support digestion and improve heart health.
The only problem is that it is not a good source of protein. So, you would need to supplement your diet with protein-rich greens like lentils or beans and quinoa. In addition, the unripe fruit has less nutrients than the ripened one.
You would not have guessed it by looking at the watermelon but it has, of late, become quite a celebrated meat substitute.
Thick cuts of watermelon can be grilled, pan fried, baked or roasted to resemble different meats. When baked, it has the texture of raw fish. When grilled, it can be a decent substitute for seared tuna and is often used in place of tuna in vegan poke bowls. When properly cooked, all its water content evaporates, giving it a more intense flavour and ridding it of its granular texture so it acquires a texture close to fillet steak instead. To make it taste more like steak, meat flavourings and balsamic vinegar can be added Smoked watermelon, well-seasoned, looks and tastes a lot like baked ham.
9. Banana peel
Yes, you read right. Banana peels can be used as a substitute for bacon. It sounds improbably but the result looks and taste remarkably like crispy, chewy fried bacon. It all boils down to the right marinade and the Internet is filled with different suggestions you can try. The key is to use the peels of very ripe bananas – those that are full of brown spots – that have the soft white parts scraped out and to pan-fry them well.
Mushrooms make for great meat substitutes because of their rich, earthy, meaty flavour. There are also a wide variety of mushrooms, each offering a different taste profile. As a result, they feature quite prominently in vegan menus where meat would have been offered.
Portobello mushrooms, by virtue of their size and flavour, make wonderful steak substitutes. They are absorbent and will soak up the flavour of marinades and sauces. Toss them onto the grill or barbecue pit and you will have an easy vegan steak.
Shitake mushrooms resemble duck, turkey or pork when properly prepared. Sauteing it to sweat it out enhances the shitake mushroom’s distinctive flavour. This Asian mushroom is good for Chinese or East Asian dishes. Because of its rich texture, the shitake mushroom makes a good base for gravies as well.
For a beef or chicken substitute, try criminis, They look a lot like portobellos except they are much smaller. Because of their buttery texture, they hold up well whether they are cooked in soups, stews or sauces.
White button mushrooms are your go-to mushrooms to replicate chicken. Their mild flavour makes them highly versatile, while their soft texture means they cook easily They can be skewered and grilled, tossed into a skillet and sauteed with white wine, or minced and made into fillings for wontons.
If its seafood you miss, there are a few types of mushrooms that can be used to replace seafood. Chanterelle have a rich, sweet and somewhat nutty flavour. Sweat them out in a pan to get rid of excess moisture and with a little seasoning, they taste remarkably like crab.
Enoki mushrooms, when cooked, look and taste a lot like noodles. Their mild taste makes them a good fish substitute when properly seasoned with fish flavouring.
Given the vast variety, it is no wonder, then, that mushrooms have been used to make so many different types of meat dishes. Mushrooms have been made into “liver” pate, used to fill Philly cheesesteaks, stirred into stroganoff or stews, shaped into “lamb” burgers and added into casseroles and pasta dishes to give them heft. The stems of mushrooms can be shredded and pressed to resemble chunks of mutton and made into mutton curry or rendang (Asian spicy stew).
It helps that mushrooms are very nutritious, full of antioxidants and antimicrobials as well as low in calories. Mushrooms alone do not give much protein though. So, it has to be paired with protein-rich foods like nuts, soy and beans for a more balanced diet.
Another meaty vegetable is the eggplant. Their fulsome flavour makes them excellent for making parmigiana which is usually made with chicken. But eggplants can be made into so much more. They can be ground and shaped into burgers or meatballs and pair particularly well with tomato-based sauces.
Although low in fat and high in fibre and Vitamins C and K as well as magnesium and potassium if the skin is left on, they contain little protein.
Cauliflowers may be bland as a vegetable on its own, but this is precisely what makes them wonderful as a meat substitute because they can absorb the flavours of the ingredients they are cooked with. Cauliflowers can be used to replace chicken in Asian dishes. You can even make Buffalo wings with them. Sliced thickly, they can be made into steak, too. Roasted and broken into pieces, cauliflowers can resemble ground beef.
Lentils are an old-time favourite meat substitute because of their hearty taste and wide variety. These edible pulses come in green, red, brown and black varieties. They can easily replace ground beef and are cheaper, too. Because of this, they can be used for many recipes that would have required ground beef including vegan meatballs, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, meatless meatball subs, meatless Bolognese sauce and vegetarian tacos. A good source of fibre, they have plenty of micronutrients including folate, manganese and iron. A serving or two a day of lentils can help with blood sugar levels, constipation and weight gain.
Like lentils, beans are part of the legume family. Also like lentils, they come in a large variety including black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, aduki beans, navy beans, chickpeas, split peas, peanuts and black-eyed peas.
They are an excellent source of protein as well as micronutrients such an iron and folate which vegans may miss out on because they do not get them from meat.
To get the most out of beans nutritionally, sprout them. Sprouting beans make them easier to digest because it breaks down the anti-nutrients in the beans. Sprouting also increases their Vitamin C and B – especially B3, B5 and B6 – as well as fibre content.
Sprouting involves soaking the beans for eight to 24 hours before straining them and allowing them to sit for two to four days. Soon, a tiny shoot will appear out of the bean.
Since there are so many types of beans, they are useful for substituting different types of meats. Chickpeas, for example, is a good chicken or turkey substitute because of their colour and chewy texture. Blend them with breadcrumbs to make burger patties or nuggets. To make meat-less bacon bits, roast beans with spices. They can remain crisp for up to three days. Black beans cooked and mashed up can be shaped into burger patties that taste not unlike beef.
If making your own bean-based meat substitute is too time-consuming, there are products that you can buy that make use of beans and lentils to make vegetarian tuna, crab cakes and fish patties. Start-up Good Catch Foods is one such company that offers seafood substitutes made from lentils, chickpeas, fava beans and other legumes.
Nuts are extremely healthy. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that a higher intake of nuts was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Among the healthiest nuts are walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews,
Nuts can be used to make vegan cheese and meat substitutes because of their meaty taste. Walnuts can be crumbled and cooked with mushrooms and different spices to make a walnut “meat” that can be used to fill tacos, make Italian stews or top pizzas. Other nuts like groundnuts can be made into nut “meat” as well.
Quorn is a meat substitute from the United Kingdom that is a mycoprotein fermented from a fugus called Fusarium venenatum which has been added with oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals. The result is a highly processed meat substitute that can be minced to make sausages and burgers, sliced up to resemble deli meats, cut up and seasoned to mimic chicken, among the various ways quorn can be prepared.
17. Plant-based meats
Technological and scientific breakthroughs have allowed us to create meat-like or meat-tasting substitutes that taste, look and feel like meat but is not meat
Impossible Foods, for example, found a molecule called heme – an iron-rich molecule in animal proteins – that makes meat taste like meat. The better news for vegans is that this molecule can be derived from soy and yeast. Because of this, Impossible Foods was able to create a meat substitute that tastes just like meat but comes from plants. They called it Impossible Burger.
Not only does the Impossible Burger taste like a real burger, it cooks like it, too and even “bleeds” like a burger. Their ground-up version of the meat substitute browns like beef, making it good for recipes that require the meat to be seared. For now, though, Impossible Burger is limited to the ground-up version. They have the Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage as well as Impossible Pork which tastes like minced pork.
But because Impossible Food relies on molecular engineering, it has its fair share of detractors among those who are not for GM foods.
The chief competitor of Impossible Food is Beyond Meat. Its Beyond Burger is made from 18 plants ingredients and plant derivatives including peas, beans and coconut and technological wizardry that have made these common ingredients into what looks, cooks and tastes like real beef.
For those who are against genetically altered foods, Beyond Burger will satisfy because they maintain that none of its ingredients have been genetically modified.
18. Lab-grown meat
On the horizon, albeit a distant one, is cell-based or lab-grown meat. These are meat grown from actual animal cells grown in a serum. These would be meat at the molecular level unlike plant-based meat.
There are a number of challenges to overcome before lab-grown meat can be made available in the mass market. One has to do with scaffolding or how to shape culture cells into tissues. Until then, it can only produce ground beef. To grow steak, cells need to grow into tissues that they would have grown into in actual living animals. In this area, Science has not found a way to replicate what Nature does naturally yet.
Then, there is the issue of scaling. Researchers need to grow enough meat to meet global demands. So far, laboratories have not been able to match animal farms in scale and speed.
Price is another factor for consideration. Currently, lab-grown meat is very expensive, too expensive to be made for the mass market because of the cost of the fetal bovine serum or FBS extracted from cow foetuses needed to grow it.
Are meat substitutes healthy?
Can a diet that cuts out meat entirely and all the nutrient it brings – protein, Vitamin E, iron zinc, magnesium as well as Vitamin Bs such niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6 – be healthy and balanced?
1. Plants have protein
Plants provide protein, too. Foods like soybean which is the base of many vegan products, beans, peanuts, peas and lentils are all high protein foods. We also do not need that much protein. Only 12% to 20% of our totally calorie intake needs to be from protein.
2. Avoids the ills of meat
Meats have their own health drawbacks. They are high in fat, particularly saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels that can lead to heart disease. Meat can also increase the chance of developing cancer. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eater. Cows and chicken are also fed growth hormones and antibiotics which people can be sensitive to.
1. Not enough vitamins
Without meat, eggs and diary, you may not have a ready, steady source of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and iron because plant foods are lacking in these. Vegans have to make up for it by buying foods such as juices that are fortified with these.
2. Too processed
Many meat substitutes are processed and contain additives, colouring, flavouring and fillers or come from molecular modification. They tend to be high in sugar, salt and saturated fats as well. For example, popular plant-based meat substitutes on the market contain way more sodium than regular meat.
In essence, a vegan diet is safe but whether it is healthy or not largely depends on what you include in your diet because a meat substitute may not be healthier than meat itself if it is highly processed.
Future of meat substitutes
It should come as no surprise that most of the meat substitutes available on the market come from the US because of its well-developed food and beverage sector. But Europe and Asia are catching up. China, in particular, may see an increase in demand for meat substitutes given how COVID-19 has negatively impacted its meat industry.
The demand for meat substitutes is likely to increase given the interest in ethical dining – both to save the earth and the animals on it. But it will in no way displace meat. In fact, the demand for meat worldwide has not stopped growing for the last 50 years. Annually, 320 million tonnes of meat are produced globally.
What would be interesting to see is how the lab-grown meat industry shapes up. If it can overcome the hurdles it faces right now, it may truly offer a food substitute that people can develop an appetite for.