Vegetable or plant-based meat, an idea that sounds a bit futuristic but has been gaining more and more attention in the food industry in recent years. In the freezers in front of the markets, the varieties of this food that promises to be the “meat” of the future attract attention: Hamburgers, meatballs, nuggets and even tuna – none of them contain a trace of animal protein.
The proposal, which theoretically promises to be healthier and more sustainable, and therefore less damaging to the environment, due to the absence of farm animals, may not represent a positive balance in terms of nutritional value, according to experts heard by experts. R7.
Products that impart color, texture, and even flavor to meat are also considered ultra-processed, a food category that indicates an intensive industrial process characterized by the loss of important nutrients and excess preservatives.
In the composition of vegetable meat, soy protein, which is widely used by vegetarians and other groups that have stopped animal consumption, shares the leading role, for example, with pea protein, which is responsible for giving beef its characteristic color, and beetroot.
The point is that the ingredient list doesn’t end there: there are also preservatives, colours, stabilizers, essences, sweeteners, and flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate – chemicals called xenobiotics that are known to be harmful. health.
“Xenobiotics disrupt the body’s biochemical process, making it even more inflamed. So, it’s likely that if a person has a higher pain threshold, they will feel more pain, have a lazier or looser bowel, and also be more in the process of losing weight, even with less calorie products. will cause a long delay,” says Gabriela Cilla, clinical and functional nutritionist.
But it’s worth noting that brands that offer vegetable meats with a cleaner label, meaning fewer ingredients and chemical ingredients, can be a good option for those looking to remove animal protein from the menu. However, even in these cases, daily or repetitive consumption is not recommended.
Six trades for half a dozen
On the other hand, the more natural the plant-derived meat is, the higher the price. The logic also applies to the opposite: the more ultra-processed, the cheaper the price tends to be. That’s how the food industry works, as Raquel Canuto, professor in the UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul) Department of Nutrition explains.
“Once you’ve managed to take care of this part of the population that has a little more purchasing power, the food industry always goes to the poorest population, and unfortunately these foods always have worse nutritional quality,” the expert explains.
In this sense, the scenario of reducing the consumption of red meat, which is unhealthy for the low-income population, is unfavorable because such protein is a source of cholesterol, a type of unhealthy animal fat.
“When we compare plant-based burgers—which I’ll call plant-based sausages—to raw meat, we might think that in terms of health, eating chicken, fish, or any other meat is better than eating a meat ultra-processed plant-based food that will have the same health hazards. we have a literature,” says Raquel.
The comparison also applies to vegetable and animal nuggets. Neither are considered healthy or good options in this situation, according to nutritionist Gabriela Cilla.
“The problem with animal nuggets is the amount of fat they contain, because it’s an ultra-processed product made of ground cartilage, skin, bone, muscle, and even meat. Nutritionally, it will be higher in animal-derived fat, increase cholesterol, and have more sodium. Vegetable there is not only cholesterol in the product, because the rest will be basically the same in terms of preservatives,” he explains.
If the change doesn’t represent a nutritional gain, it’s also not very effective at curbing environmental impacts, as Raquel points out.
“There is a lot of debate that the ultra-processed industry is the same as the livestock industry, so there are a number of other environmental issues linked to the production of ultra-processed products that harm the environment. So swap food in nature“For example, meat is not a huge advantage by ultra-processed foods,” he says.
When is change healthy?
For those who want to stop eating meat or simply reduce their consumption, experts advise to bet on food prepared at home with natural ingredients rich in protein.
“I always recommend a homemade chickpea or shimeji burger, for example, [um prato feito] eggplant or zucchini with quinoa. For those who want to try that Meatless Monday [movimento que propõe a redução do consumo de proteína animal] and vegetable meat helps to consume non-industrial products throughout the week, but for routine it is better to prepare it at home”, emphasizes Gabriela.
There is also a wide range of protein-rich plant foods that can meet the body’s needs without the influence of meat consumption. Rice and beans, a traditional combination in the diet of Brazilians, is an example of a meal that doesn’t require animal protein, according to Raquel Canuto.
“Beans can be a good source of vegetable iron, a nutrient found mostly in red meat, and we have a wide variety of beans in Brazil. There’s lentils, which is a slightly more expensive legume, but it’s also cheaper than meat, peas themselves are a good option. if you’re not a vegetarian, you can easily replace meat with eggs, milk, cheese, which helps build the diet so nothing is missing,” she explains.
Raquel also points out that there is no other harm to health from consuming meat, apart from vitamin B12 deficiency. “Conversely, we know that if a person stops eating meat and manages to follow a healthy diet, they will experience some gains in cardiovascular health, even obesity and diabetes.”