A new review study and accompanying press release from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have provided admissions that most current plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are no better than processed food – something we’ve described as ‘one of the worst things you can eat’ and a ‘food that makes you ugly’.
The sausages are trying to warn you, for God’s sake!
Although the press release is entitled ‘Food Scientists Aim to Make Plant-Based Protein Tastier and Healthier’ and focuses on supposedly positive developments in the future of plant-based meat alternatives, it’s difficult to ignore the scientists’ admissions about the present state of such products. In short, they satisfy neither the taste nor health claims made about them, and are actually probably very bad for you indeed.
We have already reported on the fact that brands such as Impossible and Beyond Meat are realising that making claims about the superior taste or health benefits of their products just isn’t working with the public – nobody believes them, and with good reason. Instead, they are increasing – and are being advised to increase – social pressure to force consumers to make the switch from meat-based products. Oatly’s ‘Help Dad’ campaign is a particularly striking example of a new kind of shame-based advertising, with hopeless ‘unwoke’ dads being shamed by their ‘enlightened’ children for drinking cow’s milk.
In the press release, after some discussion about the growth of the plant-based food market, which grew 29% between 2017 and 2019 in the US, with 40.5% of sales coming from the ‘milk’ category, and attempts to hype various new start-up ventures to produce ‘plant-based fish or eggs or cheese’, the very telling admissions begin.
Professor David Julian McClements notes that, although the plant-based food sector is apparently expanding to meet consumer demand, “a plant-based diet is not necessarily better than an omnivore diet from a nutritional perspective.” (You can say that again!)
How plant-based ‘milks’ are made (from the study)
He notes that plant-based products need to be fortified with micronutrients that are naturally present in animal meat, milk and eggs, including vitamin D, calcium and zinc. They also have to be made to provide the full complement of essential amino acids.
The professor is right. We recently reported on a study of vegan children which came with a warning that ‘vegan children should undertake long-term supplementation with vitamins B12 and D,’ and in a recent article on relative height and diet, we noted that the incomplete amino acid profile of traditional plant- and grain-based diets means that habitual consumers are significantly shorter than those who derive most of their protein from red meat, eggs and dairy.
According to McClements, ‘many of the current generation of highly processed, plant-based meat products are unhealthy because they’re full of saturated fat, salt and sugar.’ And this is no coincidence. Ultimately, that’s what these foods are, by their very nature: highly processed foods – the complete opposite of the foods they are intended to replace.
How plant-based products mimic natural structures in animal protein (from the study)
‘We’re trying to make processed food healthier,’ McClements says. ‘We aim to design them to have all the vitamins and minerals you need and have health-promoting components like dietary fiber and phytochemicals so that they taste good and they’re convenient and they’re cheap and you can easily incorporate them into your life. That’s the goal in the future, but we’re not there yet for most products.’
Some would doubt whether processed food could ever be healthy; we’d be inclined to agree with them. Even if the excess salt and sugar are removed, these products would still undoubtedly contain large quantities of harmful vegetable oils, which have been linked to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, and a whole range of degenerative diseases of the body and mind.
In our article on the subject, we pointed out that:
‘In recent years, consumption of trans-fats and PUFAs [i.e. vegetable oil] have been linked to:
- Inflammatory damage to the gut and microbiome, including leaky gut
- The transportation of toxins into the brain
- Damage to the arteries and blood vessels
- Immune system dysfunctions and nerve degeneration
- Damage to cell structure
- Damage to genetic material and increased rates of genetic mutation’
It’s worth noting that of the various fats listed in the review study by McClements as suitable for manufacture of plant-based ‘meat’, only cocoa, coconut and olive are not dangerous vegetable oils.
‘Plant-based fats and oils can be economically extracted from various lipid-rich botanical sources, including algae, canola, coconut, cocoa, corn, flaxseed, olive, palm, safflower, soybean, and sunflower,’ he notes.
McClements obviously hasn’t read the memo about vegetable oils, and adds that ‘naturally occurring high-melting plant-derived fats [i.e. cocoa and coconut]… have high degrees of saturation that may have adverse health effects, such as an increased risk of heart disease’. We would demur that this high degree of saturation is precisely what makes them superior to the other fats and oils on the list.
Further research is likely only to deepen our appreciation of how awful vegetable oils are, and what a public health disaster their promotion as ‘healthy’ fats since the 1950s has been.
In a recent article on soybean oil we pointed to a shocking new study that revealed that it causes genetic dysregulation in mice, leading to weight gain and serious neurological problems. These findings, as we noted, ‘should be cause for alarm for one simple reason: soybean oil is the most widely consumed oil in the United States. Indeed, there has been a 100-fold increase in soybean oil consumption during the 20th century.’
With so much money to be made from these new ersatz foods, such admissions about their quality are unlikely to prove fatal to the enterprise to replace real meat with ultra-processed plant alternatives. And since the notion of a truly healthy and tasty plant-based meat alternative will almost certainly prove to be a chimera – now, 10 or 100 years down the line – expect the social pressure to continue to increase, as the only reliable means to ensure their uptake.
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