Are Plant-based Meat Alternatives Healthy for You?

Plant-based meat alternatives

Plant-based meat alternatives are skyrocketing in popularity with inventions like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat. People want to eat better, feel better, and have a positive impact on the planet. Still, these non-meat alternatives are considered processed foods. That begs us to ask, are they actually healthy or just new problems in disguise?

What’s Inside Plant-based Meat Alternatives?

If there’s no meat, what’s in it?

Meat alternatives have aesthetic qualities and/or characteristics of a specific meat. The most popular are beef, chicken and pork alternatives. You can easily find plant-based burgers, sausages, chicken tenders, ground beef and other food favorites in grocery stores and restaurants across the world. Made to look, feel and taste like real meat, they are a hit with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. They are often based on soybeans (such as tofu and tempeh), gluten (such as potatoes or rice) or peas.

Advantages and Disadvantages

But not all meat alternatives are created equal. The first thing to check for is the ingredient list on the package. You will notice a few defining characteristics of plant-based meat alternatives that make them somewhat bittersweet, depending upon what you’re looking for.


  • They generally have more iron, fiber, calcium, vitamins and minerals.
  • They don’t have cholesterol like real meat does, since plants don’t produce it. This can greatly reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • They’re better for the environment as they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and require less energy, water and land than beef production.


  • They often have the same amount of calories as their real-meat counterparts, if not higher. At Burger King, for example, a regular whopper has 657 calories. Their plant-based burger, the Impossible Whopper, has only a few less at 628 calories.
  • Many will contain higher amounts of sodium, fat and carbs than traditional meat-based foods because of the ingredients necessary for processing.
  • Other controversial ingredients may be found in certain products such as artificial coloring, added sugars and bulking agents such as carrageenan and methylcellulose.
  • They can come with a hefty price tag. Some plant-based burgers range from 50 cents to four dollars per patty, and packages usually contain four patties or more.

Key Takeaways

There are both benefits and drawbacks to plant-based meat alternatives, so find what works for you and don’t feel guilty about choosing meat alternatives over real-meat foods or vice versa, or rotating between them. At the same time, note that not all plant-based meat products are created equal. You have to do your part as a consumer to read the nutrient profile and determine if it’s right for you. These options are generally appealing to vegetarian and vegan eating styles as well as people trying to improve their cardiovascular health.

Want some further reading? Check out this article from the Obesity Action Coalition, Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign – Where’s the Beef? Understanding Meat Alternatives.

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