Plant-based Alternative “Meats”

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a professional
association for dietitians. At their recent virtual meeting (Food and Nutrition
Conference and Expo), one presentation’s focus was on plant-based alternative

I found the remarks of one speaker, Christopher Gardner, PhD
of Stanford University, especially interesting. He suggested that instead of
asking if plant-based “meats” are good (or bad) we should consider if the
question of goodness or badness is being asked in terms of personal health,
environmental sustainability, and/or personal beliefs and values related to
animal rights. In addition, instead of trying to assess goodness or badness, we
should consider what these plant-based “meats” are replacing. Are they being
used instead of animal products or plant-based whole foods?

This way of framing the question is helpful when, for
example, a reporter asks, “Are you concerned about children eating faux meats?”
it’s impossible to make a simple “yes” or “no” response. Am I concerned if a
child eats an occasional veggie burger or unchicken nuggets? No, not at all. Am
I concerned if that’s pretty much all they eat for long periods of time? Yes,
but my concern is with what’s missing and the lack of variety, just as I’d be
concerned if a child only ate bread or eggs or hamburgers.  If the veggie burgers and unchicken nuggets
are being used to replace hamburgers and chicken nuggets, I’d consider that to
be a positive switch for health, environmental, and ethical reasons as well as
from a food safety standpoint. If the veggie burgers and unchicken nuggets are
replacing bean burritos or tofu and vegetable stir-fries most days, that would
not be a positive move, in my opinion.

The next time someone asks if plant-based “meats” are good
or bad, think about the many ways that this question can be answered.

To read more about plant-based “meats” see:

Processed Foods: Embrace Them? Shun Them?

How Do the Newer Meat-Like, Plant-Based
Burgers Compare Nutritionally?