Vegan food is ‘worse for your health than eating real meat’

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Going vegan won’t improve your health, an experiment suggests.

Researchers have discovered plant-based meat products offer no ‘clear benefit’ for heart health. 

People who ate fake sausages, burgers and mince also seemingly had worse blood pressure than their meat-consuming counterparts. 

Experts today labelled the ‘health halo’ surrounding plant-based meats unjustifiable and urged the food industry to ‘re-evaluate the development of the next generation of meat alternatives’.

Study co-author, Dr Sumanto Haldar, a lecturer in nutrition science at Bournemouth University said: ‘At present, producing these plant based meat alternatives often involves a substantial amount of processing.

People who ate fake sausages, burgers and mince also seemingly had worse blood pressure than their meat-consuming counterparts. Experts today labelled the ‘health halo’ surrounding plant-based meats unjustifiable and urged the food industry to ‘re-evaluate the development of the next generation of meat alternatives’

Vegan participants swapped meat for ultra-processed alternatives from brands like Impossible Beef, Omni Foods, the Vegetarian Butcher and Beyond Meat, including Beyond Meat's 'Beyond Sausage Original Brat'

Vegan participants swapped meat for ultra-processed alternatives from brands like Impossible Beef, Omni Foods, the Vegetarian Butcher and Beyond Meat, including Beyond Meat’s ‘Beyond Sausage Original Brat’

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , academics said: 'Among the classical cardiovascular disease risk factors, no clear effects were observed between the animal-based meat diet and plant-based meat groups'. Pictured, Impossible Foods' 'Impossible Beef', one plant based alternative offered to participants

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , academics said: ‘Among the classical cardiovascular disease risk factors, no clear effects were observed between the animal-based meat diet and plant-based meat groups’. Pictured, Impossible Foods’ ‘Impossible Beef’, one plant based alternative offered to participants 

‘The end products can be high in salt, saturated fat and additives in order to match the taste and texture of real meat products.’

He added: ‘It is clear there are still a lot of opportunities for improvements in plant-based meat analogues in the market in order to justify perceptions of superior health benefits of these products.

‘As it stands, the plant based meat alternatives currently available do not offer same health advantages as a traditional plant-based diet, generally consisting of whole foods such as whole grains, legumes and a plethora of fruits and vegetables. 

‘This gives an impetus for the food industry to re-evaluate the development of the next generation of meat alternative products, so that they not only taste good, but also have improved nutritional attributes and are more affordable for the entire population.’

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE? 

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower-fat and lower-sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide  

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Eighty-two participants at risk of type 2 diabetes were split into either carnivorous (42) or plant-based (40) dietary groups for an eight-week trial.

Vegan participants swapped meat for ultra-processed alternatives from brands like Impossible Beef, Omni Foods, the Vegetarian Butcher, Beyond Meat and The Vegetarian Butcher.

Beef and pork mince, chicken breasts, burger patties, sausages and chicken nuggets accounted for the six meat options delivered to the meat eater’s homes. 

Before the study, volunteers underwent blood tests to allow researchers to assess their cardiometabolic health.

They were fitted with glucose monitors to check blood sugar levels in real time.

Scientists afterwards took a second blood test to monitor changes in cholesterol and other key markers of heart health. 

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, academics said: ‘Among the classical cardiovascular disease risk factors, no clear effects were observed between the animal-based meat diet and plant-based meat groups.’ 

Dietary cholesterol fell among both groups.

While levels of trans fats — unsaturated fatty acids — were highest among meat eaters, their sodium intake reduced across the eight weeks.

Instead, it spiked 42.5 per cent among fake meat consumers. 

‘Modest improvements’ in blood pressure were also noted in the meat-eaters but not those on a plant based diet. 

‘These findings suggest that despite the well-documented health benefits of traditional plant based diets, their health benefits should not be conflated with plant based meat diets’, researchers added. 

Interest in a plant-based diet has soared in recent years, with vegans citing ethical, environmental or health reasons. 

The exact numbers of vegans now in the UK is almost impossible to establish.

But one recent survey suggested around 600,000 people are believed to be on a plant-based diet, while another in 2021 claimed that almost a third of Brits used alternative milks.

Last year, Meatless Farm — one of the UK’s leading faux-meat retailers — went into administration. 

It sold £11million worth of plant-based mince, burgers and chicken in 2021 but struggled as demand for meat-free products slowed.

And in August, it was revealed that vegan brand Beyond Meat saw sales slump by almost a third as it struggled with the downfall in demand. 

Meanwhile, research from The Grocer suggested that the range of meat-free goods offered in supermarkets shrank by 10 per cent in the six months to March 2023 as firms cut back on product lines.

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