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Are Mock Meats Really Healthy?

May 9, 2014

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Hi, I’m Maria Marlowe, a Certified Health Coach and author of Detox without the Deprivation. In my weekly “Ask Health Coach Maria” series, I answer frequently asked questions that relate to health and wellness. Have a question? Ask me here

Hi Maria, 

I recently switched to a more plant-based diet, and have replaced chicken and beef largely with mock meats. Are they really healthier? 

Ashley P., New Orleans, LA 

Mock meats have been garnering quite a bit of attention in the news recently. Bill Gates invested in faux-meat purveyor, Beyond Meat, which tastes so similar to the real thing that Whole Foods got in trouble for accidentally labeling it as regular chicken. Unsuspecting omnivores at their salad bar were left eating this soy doppelganger! 

Taste aside, when it comes to the nutritional attributes of mock meat, you are spot on in questioning their healthy halo. 

Mock meats are typically made from soy protein isolate, which you’ll often see as one of their first ingredients. Soy protein isolate is a highly processed form of soy that has been stripped of the carbs, fats, and antioxidants naturally found in whole soy beans, essentially leaving just protein and phytoestrogens. If you’re just looking for a pure protein source, then that might be fine for you, but it’s important to be aware of the nutritional elements these mock meats are missing. Additionally, these products are usually high in sodium and contain extra fillers and questionable chemical ingredients.

On top of that is the fact that most soy is genetically modified (GMO). There is currently a debate over whether or not GMO crops pose a threat to human health, and unfortunately, only limited and inconclusive research has been done to answer this definitively. 

However, we do know that GMO soy is typically sprayed heavily with the herbicide “Roundup,” whose active ingredient, glyphosphate, is a carcinogen that disrupts the endocrine system

So, I would advise avoiding GMO soy. If you are going to eat mock meat, look for brands that specifically state “organic soy” or “non-GMO soy” in the ingredient list. If you don’t see those terms, you should assume the soy is GMO. 

Ultimately, I wouldn’t rely on mock meat as your main source of protein. Instead, try what I like to call “not-meat” dishes, like organic tempeh (fermented whole soy), portabello mushrooms, and high-quality bean and veggie burgers, which have a similar texture to meat and can be flavored to taste like it. 

Also, don’t forget that there are plenty of protein-packed plant foods that are absolutely delicious without any attempt to imitate meat: lentils, split peas, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all great choices. 

Bottom line, I would avoid mock meats, or simply use them as a transitional food for a couple of weeks as you wean your palate off of a meat-heavy Standard American Diet. Instead, I would direct you toward whole, plant-based proteins like those mentioned above. 

Do you have a favorite “not-meat” recipe that you’d like to share? Leave a link in the comments below.

Maria Marlowe is a Certified Health Coach and regular Wellness Today Contributor. Get your health question answered in her next column by sending her an email at healthcoachmaria@wellnesstoday.com.