Healthy Living: is meatless meat healthier?


Many restaurants and fast-food chains have added meatless meat menu items and consumers may believe they are a healthier alternative but that is not the case.

Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King and Subway are just some of the chains announcing “meatless meat” menu options this year.

According to Dr. Amy Porto, a registered dietitian and associate professor of Dietitics at Messiah College, the main goal in creating meatless meats is to mimic actual meat.

“Not only in taste or texture but also in nutritional values,” Dr. Porto explains. “Side by side we see a lot of similarities in calories, carbohydrates, protein, and saturated fats.”

Some may choose these menu items as an alternative to meat believing there are added health benefits.

Dr. Porto says while meatless options have higher fiber content because the products are plant-based, they are also a processed product so there is higher sodium.

If you are considering going “meatless” Dr. Porto says to first ask yourself why?

“I think the important thing with meatless meats, as far as the health value, is ‘what are we comparing them to?’ What are we substituting them for in the diet?” she asks.

Some consumers order meatless for personal or environmental reasons.

For those consumers, Dr. Porto says to check the label to make healthier choices. Look for products lower in saturated fat and sodium.

It is also important to point out that meatless meat burgers, while plant-based, are not the same as “veggie burgers.”

“A veggie burger that’s not attempting to mimic meat tends to be lower in calories and saturated fat,” says Dr. Porto.

“While veggie burgers have been around for a long time the meatless meats that recently hit the market are products made from plants to taste like meat with the target market being meat-eaters rather than vegetarians,” she explains. “Replacing a burger with a plant-based meat is not the same as eating a salad.”

For those eating meat, Dr. Porto says as a whole food group, meat has a lot of health benefits with protein, iron and Vitamin B12.

“Choosing leaner cuts of meat is an option, trimming the fats or skins from meat is an option and then baking or grilling versus frying would be a better choice overall,” says Dr. Porto.

Dr. Porto listed pork, chicken and turkey as leaner meat options.

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