Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: Food For Thought

Waters College of Health Professions

Tomato Plant

Plant-based meat alternatives have existed commercially for years. Within the U.S. market, textured soy protein was incorporated into meatloaves in institutions in the early 1970s when the price of beef soared with rising transportation costs. These products weren’t necessarily popular though, due to major textural differences compared to their meat-based counterparts and the need to add flavors to an otherwise bland product. In the 1980s, plant-based burgers, including the famous Garden Burger, gained ground in the commercial market because they offered a lower saturated fat option that appealed to consumers wanting to reduce their risk of heart disease. These frozen burgers evolved from burgers with visible vegetables in them to burgers colored brown to resemble cooked beef which appealed more to consumers reluctant to make the switch from meat for health reasons. Fast forward to 2020 and, with environmental sustainability in the forefront of many consumer’s minds, a new surge in the desire for plant- based meat alternatives has resulted in their increased availability in the market. In this new frame of mind, consumers should be aware that health is not necessarily in the forefront of the minds of retail food establishments producing such products. For example, Burger King took a lot of heat from vegetarian consumers when it was reported that their new “Impossible Burger”, made from plant-based ingredients, was prepared on cooktops previously grilling beef burgers. Burger King’s CEO told Business Insider in 2019 that their focus was to gradually shift people from animal meat to eating more plant-based foods based on the principle that eating an animal is not necessary. Rich in high-quality protein, B-vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc necessary for human growth and development and healing following illness or surgery, meat provides many nutrients. While these nutrients can be obtained from combinations of plant-based foods with careful planning, consumers need to be willing to invest the time and energy into planning such meals. Retail food industries can provide quick plant-based meat alternatives. Depending upon the plant-based ingredients they use to mimic the taste and texture of meat, these products may or may not contain all of the essential nutrients afforded to those who consume meat and may actually provide additional unwanted ingredients such as increased sugar, which may compound other human health problems. Whatever the reasons consumers decide to shift to plant-based meat alternatives, it is important to be educated on nutrition for health and to ask questions and demand of producers an equally nutrient-rich plant-based meat alternative.


— Joelle Romanchik-Cerpovicz, PhD, RD, LD Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science and Director, Didactic Program in Dietetics