KEY PLANT-BASED INGREDIENTS
While there are more ingredients at play here, we highlight the most common non-genetically modified building blocks of plant-based meats and what they really are.
Soy protein – Also known as soy leghemoglobin, this protein is found in the roots of soybean plants, and is rich in non-heme iron (a type of iron found in many plants that is different to regular heme iron in meat). Soy protein usually forms the base of many plant-based burgers because of its ability to make fake meat “bleed” when cooked to mimic real red meat as far as possible. However, it is important to note that while soy protein is rich in iron, plant-based non-heme iron is absorbed at a much lower rate by our bodies than regular heme iron found in animal products. Hence the need to add vitamin B12, iodine, zinc, vitamin D and calcium to plant-based products, to better cater for vegan requirements.
Pea protein – this is the most common type of vegetable protein used as an animal protein substitute. While pea protein has been associated with positive effects such as lowering cholesterol, it is a derivative of legumes, so can be an issue for those with a peanut allergy.
Coconut oil – though once considered a superfood, it is important to remember that more than 80% of calories in coconut oil come from saturated fat, which is linked to high levels of the ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, causing issues such as clogged arteries and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 13g of saturated fat per day; and considering that a plant-based burger can have up to 20g of saturated fat (usually from a combination of canola and coconut oil), moderation is key here.
Beet juice – red meat has real blood and plant-based burgers have beet juice to mimic the red colour of rare meat. Made from steamed, boiled or roasted beets, the healthy beet juice is brimming with good things such as folate, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, all of which can help protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. However, remember that the amount of beets used in plant-based meats is minimal, so a vegan burger isn’t your solution to being a major source of these important nutrients.
Seitan – essentially a soy-free option, this processed wheat gluten is high in protein, low in fat, and rich in selenium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and copper. Even though seitan is made from wheat, its processing method keeps carbs to a minimum (think 4g/serving), but should still be avoided by those with a gluten intolerance or a celiac disease.
Yeast extract – this brings the umami factor to plant-based meats with a unique savoury flavor typically associated with meat and seafood. And it also adds to the nutritional value, being an important source of vitamin B12, predominantly found in animal products such as meat, fish, milk and eggs, and critical for maintaining red blood cell production, converting food to energy and maintaining a healthy nervous system.