Plant-based alternatives are better than real meat

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Some plant-based foods are highly processed, but they’re still healthier for your heart than real meat, experts say. Clark&Company/Getty Images
  • Plant-based meat alternatives provide greater improvement in cardiovascular risk factors than real meat, researchers report,
  • They say plant-based meat alternatives can improve cholesterol levels and have been shown to have no link to high blood pressure, despite the sodium content in some products,
  • Although plant-based meat alternatives are often highly processed, experts say they tend to be lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber than real meat.

Plant-based meat alternatives improve cardiovascular risk factors compared to animal meat.

This is according to one Review According to studies published today Canadian Journal of Cardiology The report said that although the nutritional profile of plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) varies widely, they tend to have a more heart-healthy nutritional profile than real meat.

“Commercially available PBMAs are nutritionally diverse but generally have a cardioprotective nutritional profile relative to meat, including fewer saturated fatty acids and more fiber per serving. Available randomized clinical trials evaluating PBMAs are promising and suggest that replacing meat with PBMAs may improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, including reductions in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C),” the study authors wrote.

“PBMAs do not appear to negatively affect other CVD risk factors such as blood pressure, even though they are classified as ultra-processed foods and many products contain high amounts of sodium,” the researchers said. “These improvements in CVD risk factors may result in a reduced risk of developing CVD; however, high-quality long-term studies evaluating CVD outcomes are needed.”

Plant-based meat alternatives are typically highly processed food products made from plant-based ingredients that can be used in place of meat in the diet.

The study authors reviewed research conducted on plant-based meat alternatives from 1970 to 2023 to assess what is known about the nutritional profile of these foods, as well as their effects on heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The researchers noted that several studies indicate that plant-based meat alternatives may improve cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol levels. They also found that despite the high levels of sodium in some plant-based meat alternatives, the foods were not associated with increased blood pressure.

“For people who want to reduce their meat intake, especially if it is red meat, replacing it with PBMAs can be a heart-healthy option. For those who already limit their meat intake, PBMAs can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern as a great protein source; however, choosing options lower in saturated fat and sodium may be beneficial when consuming them regularly,” Dr. Ehud UrSenior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in a press statement.

Christopher GardnerDr. Roberts is chairman of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association and also a professor of medicine and nutrition researcher at Stanford University in California.

They told Medical News Today There are several properties that make plant-based meat alternatives a healthier option than meat.

“Compared to animal meats, PBMAs are lower in saturated fat, higher in unsaturated fat and higher in fiber — all of which suggest they are “healthier” for cardiometabolic risk factors than animal meats,” said Gardner, who was not involved in the research.

He added, “Meat and animal foods contain carnitine and choline, which are precursors of TMAO, and these are absent in PBAM. TMAO has emerged as a potentially important new risk factor for heart disease. This may be another reason for the potential benefit of PBMA.”

Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a substance that forms when red meat is digested. It may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.

In 2020, Gardner was part of a research study In which plant-based meat alternatives were compared to real meat.

“Beyond Meat reduced LDL cholesterol, TMAO, and weight compared to animal meat,” he said.

American Heart Association recommend that a heart-healthy diet should minimize processed foods.

Dana HunnesIt’s unexpected that ultra-processed plant-based meat alternatives could be beneficial for the heart, says PhD, senior dietitian supervisor at RR-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

“While I have long known that plant-based foods are associated with improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, the notion that highly processed foods might as well is somewhat surprising. Although a pleasant surprise,” Hunnes, who was not involved in the research, told Live Science. Medical News Today.

“I still wouldn’t call highly processed plant-based meat alternatives ‘healthy.’ However, we can call them healthier than meat/egg/animal products,” Hunnes said. “I usually tell people that any highly processed food should be limited in the diet because when it’s highly processed, healthy fiber, micronutrients, and vitamins are often stripped out of the original food (and then sometimes put back in after the fact through fortification or enrichment). Also, highly processed foods are digested and absorbed more quickly than whole plant-based foods. With that being said, just like I tell people to make meat a rare part of their diet, I also suggest that people make plant-based meat alternatives fairly rare in their diet.”

Together with one Editorial published in Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Dr. David SpenceEmeritus professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at Western University and director of the Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre at the Robarts Research Institute in Ontario says plant-based meat alternatives can be helpful for people who need to reduce their meat or egg intake.

“Individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease should limit meat intake and avoid egg yolks, so plant-based meat alternatives and egg substitutes are helpful for patients who want to reduce their cardiovascular risk,” Spence wrote.

Gardner argues that although PBMAs may be highly processed or ultra-processed, this should not detract from their potential benefits when used in place of meat.

“For decades public health professionals have advised Americans to eat less meat. Americans have eaten and continue to eat more animal meat than almost any other country in the world. Public health efforts to move the needle on this have had very limited success. The new generation of PBMAs have taken the approach of not just having an alternative, but having an alternative that looks, smells, and tastes as much like animal meat as possible, with the hope that people will be more likely to choose it over animal meat,” Gardner said.

“Healthy versus unhealthy is a false division. Good versus evil is the same. Unprocessed versus ultraprocessed is the same,” he said. “Some foods that can be labeled as meeting the criteria for ‘ultraprocessed’ have a better nutrient profile than others. Some PBMAs have a better nutrient profile than other ultraprocessed foods. If demonizing PBMAs because they are ultraprocessed causes people to eat animal flesh instead of PBMAs, then I think that’s an inappropriate use of the intent to warn people about ultraprocessed foods.”

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