Plant-based foods are growing in popularity because they are touted as a healthier alternative to real meat. Even leading fast food chains like Del Taco, Burger King, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. now include plant-based burgers produced by top sellers like Beyond Meat (Beyond Burger) and Impossible Burger, in order to attract the health and environment conscious consumers.
While most nutrition experts agree that plant-based foods are healthier when compared to real meat, they also give attention to the fact that the former are highly processed foods. Therefore not totally, or 100% healthy as many tend to think. Products that underwent intense processing denote that their original ingredients have been heavily altered, whilst containing additives like sugar, sodium, artificial flavors, unhealthy fat and preservatives.
Most common examples of highly processed foods include potato chips, microwavable meals, diet soda and candy.
The Problem with Highly or Ultra-Processed Foods
According to food experts, the nutritional values of processed foods depend on the degree of processing applied, and the ingredients that have been added. Actually, a lot of food, including those considered as natural or organic may undergo processing; but only to prevent spoilage, or make the product last longer, as well increase food safety. Not necessarily to alter the taste, texture or color of the ingredients.
The bottom line about plant-based substitutes for real meat is that they fall under the highly or ultra-processed category. and therefore, must still be taken in moderation. They should not be regarded as the healthier alternative in a sense that they can be eaten regularly as sources of good nutrition. Otherwise, one becomes at risk of taking in too much sodium, sugar, unhealthy fat, artificial flavorings and preservatives.
Cynthia Sass, a New York-based MPH RD working as a performance nutritionist, said that generally,
“People should eat less of these highly processed foods and should instead, substitute whole ingredients.”
According to a 2016 study of American Diets, nearly 90 percent (90%) of added sugar and 60 percent (60%) calories were contributed by highly processed foods occurring regularly or frequently as part of diets.