Doctor’s Tip: Pass the tofurkey — is fake meat good, or bad
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the average American eats 200 pounds of red meat and poultry per year. The average European eats 140 pounds a year; 130 pounds in Latin America and the Caribbean; 60 pounds in East and South Asia; and 30 pounds in Africa.
There is extensive evidence that the high meat intake in America contributes to most of the chronic diseases that so many suffer and die from, such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. As pointed out in a recent column, a diet high in animal products is also bad for the health of the planet, contributing to climate change, deforestation, water pollution, erosion of topsoil, and other environmental problems.
We are nearing the holiday season, and people are thinking about enjoying tasty holiday meals with family and friends. Can these meals also be healthful and environmentally sensitive? First of all, there are numerous tasty plant-based, whole food recipes on the internet and in vegan cookbooks such as “Oh She Glows,” “Thug Kitchen,” “How Not to Die Cookbook,” and “Isa Does It.” If you make lentil loaf or your own bean or mushroom burgers, for example, they can be tasty, healthy, and have minimal environmental impact.
What about fake meat? Although fake meat has some environmental impact, according to Nutrition Action, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest, commercial fake meat has a much lower impact than real meat.
Whether fake meat is healthier than real meat 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 ultra-processed, loaded with sodium, and some — including Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger —contain harmful oils such as coconut and palm. The November 2021 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 Tempe, 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 much. You can buy it at some local grocery stores, and some options include 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.
- There is extensive evidence that the healthiest diet for humans 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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