Doctor’s Tip: Pass the Tofurky?

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor’s Tip

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the average American intake of meat and poultry is 200 pounds per person per year. The average is 140 pounds in Europe; 130 pounds in Latin America and the Caribbean; 60 pounds in East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific; and 30 pounds in Africa.

There’s extensive evidence that for optimal health we should be eating unrefined vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds — and avoiding salt, sugar and added oil. This high meat intake contributes to most of the chronic disease that so many Americans suffer and die from, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer. As pointed out in last week’s column, a diet high in animal products is also bad for the health of the planet — it contributes to climate change, deforestation, water pollution, erosion of topsoil and other environmental problems.

We’re in the midst of the holiday season, and people are thinking about enjoying tasty holiday meals with relatives and friends. Can these meals also be healthful and environmentally sensitive? This brings us to fake meat.

Globally, livestock accounts for about 15% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions; half of that comes from beef, and about a fifth from milk. If you make your own bean or mushroom burgers (recipes on the internet or in plant-based cookbooks) they can be tasty, healthy and have minimal environmental impact. According to Nutrition Action, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest, commercial fake meat definitely has less of an environmental impact than real meat.

Whether fake meat is healthy for you is less clear. Most options are soy-based, and soy has many proven health benefits. Some companies are now using non-GMO soy. Sometimes other proteins are used, such as quinoa, pea or chickpea. Unfortunately, many varieties of fake meat are loaded with sodium, and some, including Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, contain harmful oils such as coconut and palm. The November issue of Nutrition Action rated various brands of fake meat; following are their favorites, although it’s still a good idea to check labels for sugar, sodium and oils:

VEGGIE BURGERS: Dr. Praeger’s Perfect Burger or Whole Foods 365 Plant-Based Patties

FAKE GROUND MEAT: Whole Foods 365 Plant-Based Ground; Gardein Classic Meatless Meatballs

BACON: Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon; Tofurky Smoky Maple Bacon (made from tempeh, which is minimally processed, fermented soy)

SAUSAGE: MorningStar Original Sausage Patties

CHICKEN STRIPS: Breaded — Gardein, Whole Foods, MorningStar; unbreaded — No Evil Comrade Cluck; Gardein Chick’n Scallopini

Tofurky is one of several brands of fake turkey. It looks, tastes and smells like turkey and has the same texture. Meat eaters will eat it without whining too much. You can buy it at some local grocery stores, and some options have plant-based stuffing and gravy. If you add some vegetables, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, etc., you end up with a tasty, relatively healthy meal that is also environmentally friendly. Turkeys will appreciate your choice as well.

In summary:

There is extensive evidence that the healthiest diet for us is plant-based, unprocessed food with no salt, sugar or added oil, and there are many tasty recipes out there using these ingredients.

A plant-based, whole-food diet is also best for health of the planet.

Fake meat is not as healthy for us as real, unprocessed plant food, but a small amount such as a half a fake sausage cut up and added to pasta sauce for flavoring, or a small amount of fake parmesan cheese on pasta occasionally is not a big problem — nor is something like Tofurky for the occasional holiday meal.

There are some environmental concerns with fake meat, but in general it is significantly better for the planet than the real thing.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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