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They’re packaged as ‘healthy’, but do these foods live up to the hype?

I have two adult sons. One is a vegetarian, the other is avowedly carnivorous. Without sharing too much personal detail, it’s probably fair to say that their degrees of fitness are not the same.

There are many factors that would account for the differences, but I’ve often wondered how much influence diet has. For instance, my vegetarian son includes ‘plant-based meat’ in his diet. How does that stack up against the genuine article?

Plant-based meat versus meat

One important thing to point out about plant-based meat is, nutritionally, it shouldn’t be viewed as a direct meat substitute. Rather, it should be seen as one part of your overall diet. When assessing your diet from a health perspective, a broad – dare I say holistic – approach is advisable. 

A one-on-one comparison between meat and plant-based meat will reveal stark nutritional differences. For example, a standard serving of animal protein naturally contains 20-30g of well-absorbed dietary protein. In contrast, an equivalent plant-based meat serving will probably clock in at about 10-15g of protein. And that’s the protein-rich version. 

The animal-based serving will contain various essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, iron and zinc, and very little salt or carbohydrates. A serving of plant-based meat, however, will likely have a serve or two of carbohydrates and added salt – possibly lots. As for the vitamin content, this can vary greatly across products.

What makes plant-based meat?

There are myriad answers to this question, depending on your choice of plant-based meat. From a health assessment point of view, a more relevant question might be, what is plant-based meat not made of? And the salient answer to that in most cases is, not a whole plant or vegetable.

This is because, to mimic animal meat, many plant-based meats require a binding agent. So a base vegetable protein (soy, pea, wheat, rice or a combination) will be supplemented with starch and thickeners. The starch element is usually derived from potato, tapioca, corn or maize.ethyl cellulose (additive 461) and maltodextrin are standard thickeners. 

Again, none of these ingredients are bad in and of themselves, but they do highlight the differences in nutritional make-up. 

What’s more, the steps required to make plant-based meat almost invariably mean it will be defined as ‘processed’. Some may be even defined as ‘ultra-processed’. (Ultra-processed basically means they have even more additives than the standard salt and/or sugar of ‘processed’ foods.)

As a general health rule, of course, we are advised to steer clear of ultra-processed foods. We should therefore take any claims of being ‘healthy’ with, (ahem), a grain of salt. 

Nicole Dynan, accredited practising dietitian and gut health specialist, sums it up well: “The ‘plant-based’ and ‘high-in-protein’ claims are having a halo effect, but they’re not telling the whole story,” she said.

“[These] products can definitely provide a convenient option for people who are time poor and wanting an alternative to meat. But they’re still processed foods – they’re not the same as whole plant foods that we should be eating more of, like legumes.”

The bigger picture

Ms Dynan’s comments should not be taken as demonising plant-based meat, but should serve as a caution. Plant-based meat can be a convenient substitute in terms of taste and texture, but it is not nutritionally interchangeable with animal meat.

Ultimately, both meat and meat substitutes can be part of a healthy diet. The trick is to ensure they are supplemented with the foods that will deliver all of your nutritional needs.

Have you tried plant-based meats? How did they compare to the ‘real thing’? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: Six easy and delicious vegetarian meals

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. People who enjoy the pleasure of a good beef steak are omnivores not carnivores. If vegans are so anti meat why do they refer to their plant based product as meat? Why do they add so many chemicals to there plant based product to make it look like meat? Why to they add so many chemicals to make it taste like a piece of beef. Why do they make their burgers look like a traditional meat burger? Very confusing.

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