The 'Mock Meat' Debate: Are They Actually Healthy?

Here's what you need to know about vegan meat alternatives.

Image of faux meat alternatives.
Image: Food Network

In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially classified processed meats as a carcinogen, whilst simultaneously declaring that red meats are a “probable” carcinogen. Enter to the stage, a flurry of faux meat alternatives; from facon and soy mince to fake chicken steaks and even vegetarian duck, the vegan and vegetarian movement has been galvanised into action, bringing a huge array of meat alternatives with them. But, are they *actually* healthy? Here’s what you need to know about mock meats.

The ingredients:

Look, when it comes to the faux-meat market, you’ve got to judge each item on its individual merit—you simply can’t assume that because it’s labelled as vegan or vegetarian that it’s healthy. The truth is that many popular mock meat alternatives are made primarily from an ingredient that should be treated with caution: seitan.

Seitan is the looks-like-meat-tastes-like-meat-but-is-actually-wheat substance that dominates meat-alternative cuisine. And it’s not just gluten-heavy, it is in fact pure gluten on a plate. It’s prepared by mixing flour with water, then kneading and rinsing the dough to remove the starch until you’re left with just, well… gluten. It’s a popular choice because it’s so versatile; great for deep-frying, seasoning or barbecuing to create a whole world of mock meat options.

Mock meat seitan
Image: Sha Wellness Clinic

While we’re not ones to point fingers and name names, as an example; here is an ingredients list for a popular mock chicken schnitzel item:

Water, Vegetable Protein (19%) [Soy (Lecithin), Wheat, Wheat Gluten], Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Canola), Crumb [WheatFlour, Sugar, Salt, Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Colours (Curcumin, Paprika Oleoresin), Wheat Fibre, Herb, Spices, Dehydrated Vegetables, Rice Flour], Oats, Flavour, Batter (Wheat, Soy, Guar Gum), Starch (Tapioca, Potato), Wheat Fibre, Citrus Fibre, Citric Acid, Yeast Extract, Minerals (Zinc, Iron), Vitamin (B12)

So yeah—basically, a whole lotta wheat with some flavourings and soy thrown in for good measure. And while we’re not saying that gluten has to be avoided at all costs, it’s definitely something that should be kept in moderation within people’s diets simply because it has absolutely zero nutritional value. And we mean zero.

The protein source:

Mock meat alternatives
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Another danger of faux meats is that they’re often used in lieu of meat protein on a plate (chicken, steak or fish for example), but they’re actually a really (and we mean really) poor source of protein. Because of their heavy gluten content, many are a poor source of nutrition in general, and those transitioning or already living a more plant-based lifestyle would do well to simply eat more plant-based protein sources as opposed to mock meats. Think lentils, chickpeas, nuts, tofu and tempeh, beans, chia seeds for adding some delicious, meat-free protein to your meals, and steer clear of the gluten-laden fake stuff.

Healthy options:

Mock meat alternatives
Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

We’ve harped on enough about whole foods enough before for you to know that they’re pretty much always going to trump processed, packaged items like fake meat. Turning to tofu, tempeh, jackfruit, mushrooms, lentils, beans and legumes to replicate the taste and texture of meat is always going to be healthier than buying mock meat mince or mock meat chicken breasts from the supermarket. Ultimately, the fact that people are seeking alternatives to meat alternatives speaks volumes about how healthy mock meats actually are—and while they can be enjoyed occasionally as a treat, they certainly shouldn’t be a salient feature in a vegan or vegetarian diet.

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