Meat substitutes, mock meats, meat alternatives or meat replacements have been eaten for hundreds of years. Tofu was used by the Chinese in the 200's, seitan, made with wheat gluten, was first used to make high protein noodles, before it was cooked as a meat replacement. There's also tempeh, created in Java, with fermented soy beans it is a tasty alternative to meat. One of the problems with meat substitutes, especially the ones that have been produced in recent years, is that they can be very high in salt and they are all processed foods. Processed foods often have sugar added to them to make them taste nicer, even savoury foods can have sugar in the ingredients list. Processing food will strip the foods of its nutrients; vitamins, minerals and fibre can be lost in the preparation of these food products. Having said that, there are health benefits to eating meat substitutes.
The Pros of Meat Substitutes
Meat substitutes are made to look like the meat product that they are replacing, they will have a meaty texture, appearance and the flavour. They may not look the same as the meat, but they will look similar, you will know what it is a replacement for and there is a huge variety of meat substitutes to choose from these days. From roast chicken to prawn tempura, there is a meat free version of pretty much everything. The health benefits of meat substitutes are varied, they are often high in protein as they are usually made with wheat or soy protein. They are often low in fat, with little saturated fat, if any, and no trans fats. Meat substitutes, made from plants, will retain their fibre content which is good for your gut. Most meat substitutes don't contain haem iron, this is not a form of iron that occurs naturally in plants, but is found in meat, especially red meat. It can be produced by fermenting plants products and adding them to meat substitutes to create a more meat-like taste, but it is expensive and not often done. Haem iron is known to encourage inflammation within the body and is also involved in the development of some cancers. As well as haem iron, meat substitutes don't contain mercury which can be found in some fish, tuna can have levels of mercury so high that pregnant women shouldn't eat it due to the danger to their baby. Mercury is a heavy metal and poisoning can cause symptoms that include muscle weakness, numbness in the hands and feet, skin rashes, anxiety, memory problems, trouble speaking as well as long term kidney problems. Mercury can be found in plants, such as rice, grown in contaminated soil, however, such plants would not be used in meat substitutes. Studies on diet have also shown that people that eat meat substitutes instead of red meat have lower levels of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes. This is partly because meat substitutes are low in fat but also because food made from plants is simply better for the body, there are chemicals found in plants that aren't in meat.
Cons Of Meat Substitutes
A big problem with meat substitutes is what they are missing, iron and vitamin B12. These nutrients are both vital to good health and low levels will lead to blood disorders such as low levels of red blood cells and red blood cells that aren't formed correctly. Low levels of vitamin B12 can also affect the brain. This problem can easily be avoided with a B12 supplement and with iron supplements are rarely needed as iron is found in other foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and beans.
Meat substitutes are well known to be quite expensive. When compared to the meat product that they are made to replace, meat substitutes will normally cost more, quite a bit more. It is often the case that the more meat-like the product is the higher the price. Meat substitutes are processed foods and can be high in salt, sugar and preservatives, these are the kind of ingredients that everyone needs to avoid. But, generally speaking, meat substitutes are not as healthy as whole foods such as beans. They will have lost some of their nutrients and had ingredients added to them that our bodies do not need. Whole foods are cheaper too.
The decision as to eating or not eating meat substitutes is entirely your own. Some vegans feel that such products are disgusting as they mimic the look, taste and smell of a dead animal. Others simply don't like them, vegan or not. Eating these things once in a while isn't going to harm you, but remember, every time that you eat you make a choice to not eat something healthier. Not judging, I eat meat substitutes, too.