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Plant-Based Meat is Growing as a “Functional Food” Category – But How Healthy Is it?

June 20th, 2019

A plant-based diet is one that eliminates or significantly reduces animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and for some people, even honey. There is increasing evidence that a plant-based diet can help people lose weight, reduce their chances of developing diabetes, and provide many other health benefits. Recent studies have even shown that there may be a correlation between plant-based diets and lower instances of certain cancers.

The increased popularity of plant-based diets has led to an increase in the availability of plant-based products designed to replace animal products. In recent months, Beyond Meat, a company that creates the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausages, has been celebrated for its innovative products. At the same time, serious questions have been raised about how healthy these foods are. Keep reading to find out what we mean when we describe plant-based meat as being a “functional food” category and learn why some people are concerned about the healthfulness of these products.

The Definition of “Functional Foods”

First used by the Japanese during the mid-1980s, the term “functional foods” refers to foods that have been specifically processed to contain specific ingredients shown to be healthful, and that help with specific bodily functions. Japan is currently the only country with a formal approval process around use of the term “functional foods” for products sold in its country.

In the United States, “functional foods” is not a legally recognized term, and as a consequence the definition for what a functional food is can vary from one entity to another. By 1998, functional foods were a leading nutrition trend in the U.S., with the term generally referring to a food or ingredient that had health benefits above and beyond the nutrients it naturally contained. Those who support the functional foods movement point to the fact that foods that meet certain criteria can help lower instances of disease, increase health, and lower the cost of health care.

Are Plant-Based Meat Products Really Functional Foods?

The short answer is: It depends on who you ask, and what metrics are being used to assess how healthy plant-based meat products are.

Those who are focused on calories may point to the fact that a four-ounce Beyond Burger has more calories than a four-ounce 85% lean beef patty. The Beyond Burger is also significantly higher in sodium and has more total fat than a hamburger.

On the flip side, the Beyond Burger has zero cholesterol, compared to the 100 mg of cholesterol found in an average four-ounce hamburger. The Beyond Burger’s levels of saturated fat are also significantly lower than the average hamburger.

There Are Other Reasons to Choose Plant-Based Meats

Of course, there are other motivations for choosing plant-based meats that may have nothing to do with whether or not they’re healthier for you. For example, some people choose to reduce or eliminate meat products from their diets for ethical reasons, or out of concern for the environment. Others may simply prefer the taste of plant-based meat products.

It’s also essential to remember that what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another. This is why we recommend genetic testing for many of our clients. The GxNutrient Analysis offers insight into how well your genetics allow you to absorb certain nutrients, while the GxSlim Analysis provides information on how your unique genetic makeup can help or hinder you from losing weight. Call us today for more information at (800) 859-7511.

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