As I sat and tried out a vegan bbq rib wrap the other day, I eventually didn’t even notice that it wasn’t real meat. The texture was soft and so familiar to bbq pork ribs that it was enjoyable without having to worry about having something very fatty. I tend to be open to trying new things even if they sound weird (like a vegan chicken salad sandwich made of tofu).
When I was at college and the cafeteria had a variety of vegan sandwiches, I thought to try them out when I wasn’t in the mood for heavy meat dishes. Also at a health food store that I have gone to, they make some of the most palatable vegan options like a spicy chicken, and even vegan duck. Now at home, I try some recipes out with using tofu, tempeh or vegan sausages, but there are so many other products that I haven’t even tried out yet on my own. Oddly now, there are even plant based burgers that “bleed” like real meat.
Many times when I see prepared vegan meat products, I notice more sodium and ingredients that have to be added, so while there are pros to having them, there will also always be cons.
The Good and Bad Sides To Vegan Meat Alternatives
Obviously the best way to utilize plant based meat alternatives is to try making use of the ingredients on your own, without the help of the processed vegan meats. If you want to control the sodium levels in your food then buying plain tofu, tempeh, textured soy protein, or seitain would be your best bet when adding in your own flavors and knowing exactly how much you are putting in, in terms of salt, etc.
- Being plant based (made from things like oats, lentils, beans, soy, wheat gluten), vegan meat alternatives and products will be devoid of saturated fats and cholesterol, as well as having fortification from vitamins and minerals. You can likely also save money in the long run, as vegetarian and vegan diets are shown to have a lower amount of money spent on them annually.
- On another plus side, vegan meat alternatives are a lot less likely to have bacteria like E.coli or cross contamination, so they can give peace of mind to prepare them more safely.
- However, many of the processed products can still be low in vitamins and minerals like B12 or iron, so using whole foods like legumes, beans, whole grains and nuts/seeds are good ways to improve your weekly meals (or also try less processed vegan mock meat alternatives like tofu, seitan and tempeh).
- Are processed vegan meat products really helping the environment?: In a way yes, since a plant based diet releases less of a carbon footprint, but according to a 2010 paper in the Food research international, the processing, storing and manufacturing of something like a pea burger, takes up the same amount of energy to produce as a pork chop. That doesn’t sound too comforting to know, especially with so many new products coming out that can now contribute to more resources being used to make them.
- What about the processing of soy bean crops?: Well, many soy bean crops are processed with a chemical called Hexane which is a neurotoxin (that can cause nerve damage) and air pollutant. If you don’t want that in your vegan meat alternatives or your tofu that you buy, then you can opt to find the USDA organic brands (and non-GMO), since that chemical is banned from being used in the processing.
While some of these things about vegan meat alternatives may sound negative, overall they are convenient alternatives to have during the week. I would suggest to only have those products high in sodium scarcely for a treat, while on other days you try to use less processed vegan alternatives to make meat free meals. For those with allergies to soy, nuts or gluten, you also have less options to find what may work for you.
Some Products and their nutritional information
The Celebration Roast by Field Roast: While this product has 23 grams of protein per 3 oz serving and 10% iron, it also has a whopping 22% daily value of sodium per serving.
Gardein seven grain crispy chicken tenders: For 3 pieces, you get 15% sodium for the day, but at least there is 11 grams of protein and 10% iron. The Gardein products are not certified organic or non-gmo and use soy protein isolate in most of their products which is highly processed.
Lightlife smart ground beef crumbles: With no total or saturated fat at all, these beef crumbles can be a smart option for those who don’t want fat, but they also use soy protein isolate and for 1/3 cup have 14% sodium.
The better choices
These vegetarian/vegan processed foods brands are ones that don’t have GMO foods or hexane in them (and some are organic):
- Beyond Meat products
- Tofurky products
- Boca organic products
- Field Roast Grain Meat Co.
- Amy’s Organics
- Helen’s Kitchen
- Primm Springs
- Morning Star Organic products
- Trader Joe’s Organic Tofu Burger
- Silk Organic products