The Rise of Plant Based Alternatives
From meatless alternatives at your local fast food restaurant to a shift towards completely plant-based diets, changing your diet is easier than ever. But is it right for you? Let’s discuss.
But this isn’t your typical Burger King menu. And that’s not your typical burger. In fact, it’s not made of meat at all. That’s because it’s 2020 and the meatless revolution has gone mainstream with plant-based meatless options that aren’t just easier to find – they’re hard to miss.
Last year, Beyond Meat, one of the leaders in meatless alternatives went public with an initial offering over around $25 a share. The company is now valued at more than $10 billion with shares trading around $69. Impossible Foods, its closest competitor, just received a massive amount of funding. Both companies have partnered with some surprising names like KFC, Carl’s Junior, White Castle, and Burger King to offer meatless, plant-based options that customers are responding to.
On the surface, this might not seem all that new. After all, veggie burgers have been available for decades. But there’s one important distinction today. Companies like Impossible and Beyond are engineering their new plant-based products to taste and feel almost exactly like actual meat – and while it might not be enough to convert the most ardent of omnivores, it’s certainly enough to convince a large portion of consumers to consider plant-based as their first choice. In North America alone, meat alternative sales grew 37% between 2017 and 2019 – and sales that went from $584 million to 800 million. Apparently there are plenty of Americans who are willing to go meatless as long as it’s tasty and cheap.
Plant-based diets are on the rise.
The meatless revolution comes down to more than burgers and fries. It’s part of a larger trend of plant-based diets. Such diets eschew anything that comes from animals, including meat, cheese, milk, and even honey. They also avoid oil, and try to minimize sugar and processed ingredients to focus on whole foods. A lot of factors are contributing to the increase in plant-based diets as well. More information is shedding light on animal cruelty, the environmental effects of mass animal farming, and (of course) the ever-present pursuit of the slimmer waistline.
There’s also something to be said for good old fashioned marketing as a contributing factor as well. Just a few years ago, we would have called these diets “vegetarian” or “vegan,” but those terms have, for many consumers, become largely loaded. “Plant-based” has a nicer, healthier ring to it even though the approach and practice is largely the same.
But is all this stuff really good for you?
In a word, yes. But let’s dive in a bit to take a closer look at some of the health benefits that come with a plant-based diet and how they differ from meats.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible burger make plant-based proteins, but the term can be slightly misleading. When you sit down to eat an Impossible Whopper at Burger King, it’s totally safe. However, keep in mind that it’s still processed. While that burger might be derived from plant proteins, it’s not like you’re eating a salad. Is it better for you than animal-based proteins? In some cases, absolutely. Many people suffer from sensitivity to antibiotics fed to cows, for example. You also don’t have to worry about food poisoning that might occur from undercooked meat.
On the other hand, a complete plant-based diet that forgoes Burger King and focuses on whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, and whole grains while minimizing sugars and oils, has a wide-range of health benefits that all of us should consider, including lowering the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancers, and cholesterol. Opting for a plant-based diet has also been shown to reduce obesity more than most traditional or fad diets.
So yes, a plant-based diet goes well beyond meat alternatives. And it isn’t just healthy – it’s incredibly good for you.
Starting a plant-based diet.
Skipping the steak dinner and replacing traditional animal proteins with vegetable proteins means paying closer attention to what you’re eating to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients – especially as you get started. Like any new skill, there’s a slight learning curve.
First, you’ll need to make sure your new diet includes enough protein – the essential amino acids you need to maintain muscle mass, strong bones, and healthy skin. This means replacing chicken and steak with plenty of beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds.
Next, focus on your calcium and vitamin and mineral intake. You can do this with a milk alternative, like almond, soy, rice, or hemp milk along with plenty of dark leafy greens for calcium. Mushrooms and fortified cereal, which will give you all the Vitamin D you need.
To supplement your plant-based diet with zinc and B12, eat whole grains, beans, and fortified cereal, along with nutritional yeast.
Can you really join the meatless revolution?
That delicious Burger King Impossible Whopper might have you thinking: could you possibly join the meatless revolutions? More importantly: could a plant-based diet be right for you? At first plant-based foods – or even vegan meat alternatives might seem restrictive. We don’t blame you. But when you think about your new diet as being a simpler way to eat, the entire process has the potential to become liberating. Instead of referring to the traditional food pyramid when you plan your meals, consider one that includes a plant-based protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. If you do, you’ll be getting all the nutrition you need while minimizing a lot of the health risks that we could all do without.
If you’re on the fence, we recommend starting slowly. You don’t have to throw all your ground beef out the window – just yet. Start slow. Instead of thinking about adding vegetables to your meals, flip the script and start with vegetables first. Gradually reducing your meat intake over time while increasing the amount of vegetables you use will make transitioning to a plant-based diet easier – and you might discover how delicious it is.