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Over the last few years, there’s been a big push to get people across the world to embrace meatless proteins.
There are a lot of reasons for this, including the growing connections between meat eating and diseases, like colon cancer. Other experts tell us eating meat is just not “sustainable.”
Cutting down on meat and enjoying Meatless Mondays seems reasonable. But the number of meat substitutes on the market has risen sharply, from chicken tenders made from fava beans to hamburger patties made out of soy — and that seems like a way to eat less real meat without suffering, right?
Wrong! With all of the hoopla about going plant-based, one thing has been forgotten — real research on the effects those meatless products have on our health…
Don’t trust the nutritional label
Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden analyzed 44 separate meat substitutes and found the problem starts where you would least expect it — the nutrition label.
They say that although many of those meat substitutes claim a high iron content, the iron that’s in them simply can’t be absorbed by the body. This can leave you at risk for anemia, which is an iron deficiency that can cause dizziness, headaches, weakness, fatigue and even problems with heart rhythm.
And to top it off, eating meatless proteins can lead to a deficiency in other minerals, such as zinc, which is necessary for a strong immune system to fight off infections.
“Among these products, we saw a wide variation in nutritional content and how sustainable they can be from a health perspective. In general, the estimated absorption of iron and zinc from the products was extremely low. This is because these meat substitutes contained high levels of phytates, anti-nutrients that inhibit the absorption of minerals in the body,” says Cecilia Mayer Labba, the study’s lead author.
Phytates and nutritional deficiency
So what are those phytates, or anti-nutrients, that destroy the nutritional value of meat substitutes?
Put simply, phytates are compounds found in foods in foods like beans and cereals that bind to certain dietary minerals like iron, zinc and manganese and prevent them from being absorbed by the intestines. So even if the label of a meatless product claims it’s got plenty of those minerals, it doesn’t mean your body can actually use them.
“It is clear that when it comes to minerals in meat substitutes, the amount that is available for absorption by the body is a very important consideration. You cannot just look at the list of ingredients. Some of the products we studied are fortified with iron but it is still inhibited by phytates,” says Ann-Sofie Sandberg, Professor of Food and Nutrition Science at Chalmers and co-author of the study.
And to make matters worse, those phytates have been associated with a number of other health issues thanks to their ability to increase inflammation throughout the body.
This makes it clear that substituting fake meat for real meat isn’t the best solution. Instead, try cutting down on the number of times you consume meat in a week. Add in some fish and lots more fruits and vegetables. Eggs are also a great source of protein.
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Low nutritional quality in many vegetarian meat substitutes – ScienceDaily
Anemia – Mayo Clinic