How healthy is the trending plant-based mock meat option? Bhavana Choudhari finds out.
Over the past few years, the popularity of plant-based foods that resemble meat in appearance and flavour, and promise to be healthier for us and the environment, has surged. But being plant-based doesn’t automatically make an alternative meat product good for you. Plant-based meats or mock meat can be a hit or a miss depending on the ingredients.
According to research, plant-based meat substitutes are manufactured with ingredients and processing methods that produce meat-like colours, textures and flavours. These plant-based foods include soy, potatoes, seitan, peas and beans among other sources of protein. They are made with dietary fats, a thickening and emulsifying agent that holds all the ingredients together. They are typically fortified with several vitamins and minerals to make up for the nutritional disparities between them and meat, in addition to the dietary elements needed to develop colour, structure and flavour.
In 2021, Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh and his gorgeous wife Genelia announced their project ‘Imagine Meats’, a plant-based food venture. Sourcing its plant-based protein from Poland and the US, the range includes an array of kheemas, kebabs, sausages, nuggets, burgers and biryanis in plant-based chicken and mutton varieties. According to the couple, this venture is their desire to build a better, kinder planet for their children; crafting the best of global food science with Indian culinary traditions and flavours, bringing these delicacies to Indian and international palates. “For over three years, Riteish and I have nurtured a dream to work towards food choices that are good for you, the animals and our planet,” Genelia Deshmukh said in a post on Twitter. The actress further revealed that it took endless discussions and countless reworks with their food scientists from America, Germany and India to come up with the final product.
Though plant-based foods may be versatile, avid non-veg eaters remain skeptical about whether mock meat is nutritious and tasty. So, is plant-based meat really good for your health?
Plant-based meat is naturally low in saturated fats unlike animal products, and most of them contain unsaturated fats which are beneficial for the body. So, when you eat plant-based meat, it isn’t going to be detrimental for your cholesterol levels. On the other hand, red meat has a high amount of cholesterol that is home to heart diseases. The other thing that our body needs in abundance is fiber, and meat has none of it. Fiber is extremely important for the body and most non-veg eating people are deficient in fiber.
Plant options such as pea protein are low in fat and high in fiber and nutrients. But there is a lot of pessimism regarding the nutritional quality of other plant-based foods that makes it difficult to embrace totally. Also, while plant-based substitutes can taste quite like the ‘real thing’, a hardcore non-vegetarian might not enjoy its taste.
Types of plant-based meat alternatives
A growing number of plant-based meat alternatives are available today. Let’s look at some of the more popular varieties…
Soybeans: Also called edamame, soybeans are a great addition to any meal. One of the original plant-based meat alternatives, soya tends to have a mild flavour and versatile texture, making it ideal for use in many traditionally meat-based dishes. It is replete with iron, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and zinc.
Tofu: Called bean curd or soybean curd, tofu is a creamy, high-protein, low-fat soy product. Tofu can be cooked or used in salads or sandwiches. It is rich in all vitamins.
Seitan: Aptly nicknamed wheat meat, seitan is a plant-based meat substitute made from wheat gluten. It is a mildly flavoured, high-protein meat substitute. It gives dough it’s stretchy texture and has become a very popular plant-based option.
Jackfruit: It is a nature-made, plant-based meat. Jackfruit is gluten-free, certified vegan and does not contain hormones. Plus it has a meaty texture.
“Mock is Mock, Real is Real!”
Dr Mickey Mehta, global holistic health and wellness guru :
“A plant-based diet certainly brings a lot of life force into you because it not only gives energy which is real, but also carries the earth’s vitality, the water from the earth, the water from the skies, the ether, the air, the sunshine, plus since it experiences the planetary movement, being a witness to it, it acquires the wisdom of it.
“But that’s not the same with mock meat. Mock meat, in fact, leeches you of all the vitality. Just because something is ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy or better for you. We are in a plant-based trend and unfortunately, the food industry is taking advantage of this by bringing in mock meat which says ‘plant-based’.
“Mock meat is not something to be desired because unfortunately it is a combination of ultra processed, not super nutritious ingredients; plus full of fillers, stabilizers, additives, artificial flavouring agents, preservatives, thickeners, refined oils and gum. Typically, it is just texturised pea or soy protein, starch and gluten-based. Most of these products have high sodium content for added flavour and to increase shelf life.
Mock meat is often eaten in lieu of meat protein, but it is really a poor source of protein. The current mock meat standard has not been regulated well, and we don’t know what really has been churned inside.
“As a novelty, once in a while, it may be fine to consume it – provided you balance it out by reducing consumption of other processed foods and counter it with loads of vital fibre like salads and fruits, lot of herbal teas to wash it all down, and fasting as well to make sure it is out of your system.
“It would be ideal to simply eat more plant-based protein sources as opposed to mock meats. The faster a culinary fad catches on, the more important it becomes for you to make an informed choice before latching on to it. On a daily basis, if we eat a balanced, more plant-rich diet, we should be able to meet our nutrient needs.
“Please remember: Mock is Mock, Real is Real!”
“The truth lies in the precise ingredients of the mock meat!”
Nawaz Modi Singhania, fitness icon
“The truth really lies in what precisely the ingredients of the mock meat are, and the processes the product has undergone.
“Plant-based mock meat is low in calories, high in fiber and low in fat. However, depending on the other ingredients, the nutritional value or shortcomings would widely vary from brand to brand and product to product.
“If mock meat includes wheat gluten, potato starch and pea protein, that’s not going to be an ideal product. However, if it includes beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, a variety of vegetables and soy, that makes it far more beneficial to health. Added sugars, other artificial ingredients and more processed food all tip the scale on the unhealthy side.
“Read the ingredient list and the nutritional value on every product carefully that you intend to purchase, so that you can make wiser choices.”