In the media, there is such a whirlwind of new diets and food trends that almost everyone seems to be trying something these days. Popular trends like eating "mainly plant-based" or going vegan claim to be healthier for both your body and the environment.

On the other hand, there are plenty of of people that love and enjoy a big cheeseburger with all the toppings. As some of these meat-eaters want to dabble in the world of no meat, meat that looks like the real deal seems to be a comfortable medium. 

Going plant-based can mean a lot of things. Some die-hard vegans eliminate anything and everything having to do with endangering animals. Some might come to the conclusion that cutting meat out of your diet is not healthy because individuals are missing an abundance of protein from their diet.

However, protein is actually bioavailable in a lot of plant products and is a good source of fiber. 1/2 cup of black beans, lentils or peas is equivalent to 7 grams of lean protein. 1/4 cup of tempeh and 1/2 cup of tofu is also equivalent to 7 grams of medium fat protein.  

There are some other great alternatives for protein. These options are not always as exciting as this veggie chorizo recipe, so having a familiar-looking and tasting meat product sans the meat is enticing to many.

High Stakes

vegetable, wasabi
Kimberly Fu

The food industry seems to be constantly churning out new products that are meat-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free, but in the end, who knows what the eff is in them? Trying to attract all eaters alike, meat substitute products are pretty interesting. How can you make a beef burger beef-less? More importantly, is it honestly better than its meaty counterpart? 

The Fine Print

meat, chicken, fish, bread
Kimberly Fu

There are hundreds of meat-less products out there, but let's take a closer look at the ingredient lists. The packaging can be colorful and look like a juicy piece of meat, but these lists can run long with lots of additives, colors and flavorings, so what is the main base?

I can make a pretty good guess that other than water being the first ingredient, next up is some sort of soy protein. Soybeans have a variety of nutrients but they also possess a slightly less talked about component we need to bring to light. Soybeans and a lot of beans can be blended with lots of seasonings and flavorings to created that beefy texture and look. Check this black bean burger recipe and tell me it doesn't look like a real beef burger. 

Soy contains a lot of isoflavones, which activates production of estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone the body produces naturally and isoflavones can disrupt the body's natural levels of hormone production.

Gardein, Morning Star, and Boca Burgers, just to name a few companies, create fake meat products that taste just like real meat. While Gardein's Seven Grain Crispy Tenders are out of this world, eating it every day can be unhealthy—just like eating chicken nuggets, frozen burger patties, or even those corn dogs we can't help but love.

The Crispy Tenders are 100 calories for two tiny nuggets, and who can only have two? They are also high in fat. You can compare nutrition labels of plant-based "chicken nuggets" and McDonald's Chicken Nuggets.  

A beef burger that is 85/15 lean/fat that is around 6oz has 42 grams of protein but as well as 30 grams of fat. Compared to 1 cup of black beans which has around 14 grams of protein but also only 4 grams of fat. Whereas a Boca Burger has roughly 20 grams or less of protein per 3.5 oz serving but has numerous amounts of flavorings and preservatives. 

The Verdict

So, are these meatless products really healthy? A healthy diet includes a focus on variety of nutrient-dense food choices. There are other protein and meat alternatives like beans, hummus, lentils, and nuts, which are relatively unprocessed in its commercial form, making them both filling and nutrient dense.

Enjoying a Boca Burger or fake bacon once in a while won't kill you, just like a real beef burger or bacon, but keeping everything in moderation (including moderation) is key.