April 7, 2022

The Explosion of Plant-Based

Everything You Need to Know About the Latest Plant-Based Trends

Every year, the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim showcases the latest natural foods and products in the consumer packaged goods industry. By walking the expo, one can clearly get a sense for what the upcoming trends are in the health and wellness industry. This year, without a doubt, one of the biggest trends is the explosion of plant-based meat alternatives into the market. In fact, according to Grand View Research, Inc, the global plant-based meat market size is projected to reach $24.8 billion by 2030! This market is expected to rapidly grow exponentially through 2030 to meet the demand of meat-eaters shifting towards a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. It’s not just Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat dominating the market anymore. Oh no! A plethora of brands are all vying to get you to pick up their product in this very crowded market. You may be left wondering not only which products are worth spending your money on, but more importantly, which products actually are good for you. 

Why Plant-Based?

Plant-based eating aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense, whole plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). Embracing a plant based lifestyle is an amazing step toward increasing the longevity of your life. Plant-based eating patterns are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, reduced systemic inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased insulin resistance (1). Additionally, research suggests that nutrient dense plant based eating patterns may be effective for weight management (2). Most importantly, plant-based dietary patterns have been shown to reduce global warming and environmental degradation by lessening greenhouse emission and land use (3). 

Marketing The Juicy Un-Burger

Veggie burgers have been on the shelves for years – remember Morningstar Farms (founded in the mid 1970s), Bocca Burgers (founded in 1979), or GardenBurgers (founded in 1985)? These brands were primarily marketed to individuals who were already vegetarian or vegan. However, it hasn’t been until recently that brands have shifted marketing to reach omnivores by developing plant-based products that mimic the experience of eating real meat – think taste, texture, aroma. In fact, many of these products are marketed in a similar fashion to their animal counterparts.

Like Meat prominently features mouth watering burgers and saucy wings in their advertisements. While other brands have taken to likening themselves to a butcher shop, for example Abbot’s Butcher. In fact, another brand, Very Good Butchers, uses the slogan, “We Butcher Beans” for further tongue-in-cheek comparison.

Then there are others like Simulate who are matter-of-factly saying, ‘hey, we are a simulation of chicken’ and are going head-to-head against their animal-based counterparts. And of course there are the giants – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – which have gone so far as to make their burgers “bleed”. 

Yeah, But Are They Healthy?

Many of the original veggie burgers used vital wheat protein as their main ingredient and source of protein. Newer plant-based brands, including Daring, CHKN Not Chicken and Future Farm have products which contain either genetically engineered soy or pea protein. These ingredients provide the meat-like taste and texture, while additionally serving up protein content that can compete with beef and poultry gram for gram. Pea protein has the added benefit of having a complete amino acid profile, which is essential for vegetarians and vegans as most plant-based proteins are incomplete. 

More good news for vegetarians and vegans is that some of these products are fortified with vitamins and minerals such as folate, vitamin B12, thiamine and iron (4). Since both of these eating patterns lack these nutrients, having them added helps to optimize nutrient intake. 

Yet, another amazing fact is that many plant-based burgers contain significant amounts of fiber. The dietary fiber in plant-based meats makes up for 15% of the daily value, whereas beef has 0% of the daily value of fiber (4). The typical American eating pattern is lacking in dietary fiber, which has been shown to reduce risk of certain chronic diseases (5). Given that plants are natural sources of fiber, adopting a plant-based eating pattern that occasionally includes plant-based meats is an easy way to increase fiber intake. 

Fat is a major component of these plant-based products, providing both flavor and mouthfeel. Unfortunately, some plant-based products are higher in saturated fat than their animal counterparts. Furthermore, some products also contain substantial amounts of sodium. Eating patterns high in saturated fat and sodium may increase risk of developing cardiovascular disease (6). For someone with high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease, some of these plant-based meats might not be suitable. 

Don’t Make a Faux Pas When Choosing Faux Meats

Plant-based doesn’t always mean nutritious. It’s important to read the nutrition facts label and make an educated choice based on your lifestyle and health goals. Look for products that are minimally processed, low in saturated fat and sodium and higher in fiber. It is also important to not rely on these products to be the sole source of protein if you are aiming to be predominantly plant-based. Aim for at least one plant-based meal per day focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts while simultaneously reducing your meat intake. If you truly have a craving for a burger there are amazing legume-based burgers from brands like Hilary’s and Dr. Pragers which are studded with seeds and whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa – which also happens to be a complete protein. 

TL;DR/ The Takeaway

Plant-based meats can be an excellent alternative to consuming animal proteins. Many products on the market are high in protein, contain fiber and are fortified with micronutrients such as vitamin B12. Be sure to review the nutrition facts label for saturated fat and sodium. High levels of these nutrients may increase risk of developing certain chronic diseases and wouldn’t be suitable for those already with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes mellitus. Overall, many of these plant-based meats can be added to current eating patterns consisting of whole, nutrient dense plant foods including non-starchy vegetables, beans and legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits and whole grains. 

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