All meat substitutes have mycoprotein

How healthy are meat substitutes?

In Switzerland, almost five percent of people have a vegan or vegetarian diet. It is becoming increasingly easier for them to replace the barbecue party or the quick schnitzel in the evening with meat-free or even vegan products: Both Migros and Coop have around 500 so-called vegan products.

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This of course includes classic products that have been manufactured for centuries. For example tofu, which is made from curdled soy milk. Or the Indonesian tempeh, which is made from fermented whole soybeans. Since the late seventies, new developments have emerged such as seitan, i.e. wheat gluten washed out of wheat, or quorn, which consists of mycoproteins - a protein mass that is made from a certain mold. Today, manufacturers are primarily trying to create products that can hardly be distinguished from meat products. For example, today's veggie burgers can “bleed” thanks to beetroot juice or heme iron, the substance that also turns blood red. However, it is not yet approved in Switzerland.

Tempeh consists of fermented whole soybeans and, like tofu, has a long tradition.

Mineral oil, loads of salt and isolated proteins

In order to convince in terms of taste, the veggie burgers have to be mixed with flavorings, additional fats and salts. It's not always healthy.

Last year, German consumer advocates carried out a test with 18 vegan burger products. The testers found residues of mineral oils - so-called saturated mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOSH) - in every second product. Such residues find their way into food through recycled packaging or during the manufacturing process. So far, they have been detected primarily in cereal products such as bread or muesli, but also in chocolate. How harmful MOSH are for humans has not yet been scientifically clarified. Animal experiments have shown, however, that the residues accumulate in various organs and lead to inflammation. They could also be carcinogenic.

In addition, two of the meat substitute products tested had a lot of salt in the test. Specifically, they contained - together with a burger bun, ketchup and mustard - more than three grams of salt. That is more than half of the WHO recommended daily salt dose.

Meat substitutes often consist of isolated vegetable proteins, which is not exactly wholesome.

In addition, many meat substitute products mainly consist of isolated vegetable proteins. With increased consumption, this can lead to inadequate nutrition: because during the isolation process, important other nutritional components are lost. Anyone who only consumes such meat substitute products could not absorb enough micronutrients such as zinc, iron or vitamin B12. By consuming meat, eggs, dairy products or even whole, protein-containing plant components such as lentils, our need for these nutrients can be met without any problems. One exception is vitamin B12, which people living vegan need to consume mainly through B-12-fortified foods.

Mycoproteins are healthier

These are valid points. On the other hand, many researchers assume that it is healthier to eat meat substitutes instead of red (burger) meat. Its excessive consumption has so far been associated with various clinical pictures.

Certain substances are also particularly healthy: the consumption of mycoproteins extracted from mushrooms promotes human health, as a study has shown. The blood cholesterol level decreased in test persons who regularly consumed mycoproteins. Blood sugar and insulin levels were better after eating mycoprotein products than after eating meat meals. Meals made from mycoprotein were also more satiating than those made from chicken, even if the energy levels were the same.

Meat-like products are more energy-intensive

But how environmentally friendly are the meat substitute products? Studies clearly show that tofu, quorn, seitan and co. Pollute the climate less with greenhouse gas emissions than meat from ruminants and generally have a better ecological balance.

However, foods that are supposed to look like meat consume a lot of energy for their production.

Vegetarian or vegan burger patties are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from meat.

In addition, not every meat substitute is equally environmentally friendly, as a study published in 2015 shows. The researchers checked the ecological balance of six common types of substitute proteins with that of the most environmentally friendly meat protein: chicken. Pork also has a similar ecological balance. The balances of one kilogram each of a finished product made from soy, mycoproteins, wheat gluten, insect protein and even laboratory meat were measured.

The meat grown in the laboratory did the worst. However, “laboratory meat” is not yet in circulation, and by the time that happens, production processes could become significantly more efficient.

Mycoprotein came last among the meat substitutes already on the market. The right growth conditions for the mold, the production of mycoprotein and the “meaty” end product require a comparatively large amount of energy. This creates a similar amount of greenhouse gas emissions as that of one kilogram of chicken.

Wheat protein products such as seitan were in the midfield and had an overall better balance than chicken. Since they still need a relatively large amount of energy for transport and production, they have not yet been able to hold a candle to the products made from soy protein. According to the study, one kilo of soy product polluted the environment about half as much as one kilo of chicken. And not only products made from soy did the best: the meat substitute made from insect proteins was roughly on par.

Of course, you can cook wonderfully vegetarian without a ready-made meat substitute.

But if you want to do as much good as possible for animals and the climate, but also for your body, then it is best to walk past the veggie products on the refrigerated shelf every now and then - and instead cook a quick stew made from legumes and vegetables.

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