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Is plant-based meat better than real meat for your heart?

Eating plant-based meat may be better than consuming regular meat, especially for your heart, reveals a new study. But before you start having plant-based meat for heart, make sure they are not ultra-processed.
Grilled plant-based meat
Plant-based meat may be what your heart wants. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 4 Jul 2024, 12:00 pm IST
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Plant-based meat alternatives are food items that look, feel and taste a little like regular meat. But they have no meat, and are made with ingredients such as pea, soy, and wheat that are high in protein. The meat substitutes seem to be healthy, but two new findings on plant-based foods have caused confusion. A link between plant-based ultra-processed foods and heart disease and early death was found in a new study. But according to another research, plant-based meat alternatives might actually help to improve cardiovascular health. Read on to know if plant-based meat is good for your heart or not.

What is plant-based meat?

Plant-based meats are products designed to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of animal meat, but are made entirely from plant ingredients. They are created using proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other components derived from plants. Common sources include soy, peas, beans, lentils, and grains, shares nutritionist Abhilasha V.

Plant-based meat
Plant-based meat look like animal meat. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Studies on plant-based meat for heart

Consuming plant-based ultra-processed foods may increase your risk of heart disease and early death, according to a June 2024 study published in The Lancet. Researchers also found that replacing 10 percent of the ultra-processed foods that are plant-based with minimally processed plants may help lower your risk of heart disease.

Another review published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in June 2024 suggested that plant-based meat alternatives might be good for cardiovascular health. Researchers found that people who consumed plant-based meat saw improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, including total cholesterol, and body weight. It was found that plant-based meat had more protein, less sodium, and less saturated fat than red meat.

Plant-based meats generally contain less saturated fat than animal meat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, says Abhilasha. Saturated fat raises low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) or the “bad” cholesterol, and if it shoots up, it can lead to clogged arteries.

Are some plant-based meats healthier than the others?

Plant-based meats are either made with whole-food ingredients or are heavily processed and have artificial additives.

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1. Plant-based meats with whole-food ingredients

Made with minimally processed whole foods like beans, lentils, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, they are typically richer in fiber. They also have vitamins, and minerals since they use whole ingredients, says Abhilasha.

2. Heavily processed plant-based meats

They are made with isolated plant proteins (soy protein isolate, and pea protein isolate), artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives. They are often high in sodium, saturated fats, and may contain fewer nutrients compared to whole ingredient options.

So, if you go for plant-based meats made from whole-food ingredients, they will be high in dietary fiber. This will help in promoting better digestion and gut health. Since they do not contain cholesterol, they may help maintain healthier blood cholesterol levels.

But if you have highly processed plant-based meats that can contain high levels of sodium, they can lead to potential health issues like hypertension. Certain plant-based meats can be high in calories due to added fats and sugars, which can contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess. Also, they have more saturated fats, so they can do no good for your heart.

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Plant-based meat for heart
Plant-based meat consisting of whole-food ingredients are healthier for your heart. Image courtesy: Freepik

What to look for while buying plant-based meat?

If you want to go for the healthier version of plant-based meat, look for these while shopping:

  • Look for products with simple, whole-food ingredients.
  • Check for lower sodium and saturated fat content.
  • Opt for plant-based meat with protein sources like beans, lentils, or peas.
  • Choose products with fewer or no artificial additives and preservatives.
  • Consider options fortified with essential nutrients like B12, iron, and calcium.

What are the side effects of plant-based meat?

Don’t have plant-based meat in every meal, as having it in excess may have side effects like:

  • Digestive issues: Some individuals may experience bloating or gas due to high fiber content or certain ingredients like soy.
  • Allergic reactions: Plant-based meats containing soy, gluten, or other allergens can trigger reactions in sensitive people.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Relying heavily on plant-based meats without a balanced diet might lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients.

Plant-based meat may support your heart health, but while buying, make sure they are made with whole-food ingredients. Avoid eating plant-based ultra-processed meat, as they may be bad for your heart and overall health.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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