Are Beyond Meat Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Healthy?

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“Are Beyond Meat Plant-Based
Meat Alternatives Healthy?” As the chair of Harvard’s
As the nutrition department put it, transitioning global diets
towards healthy plant-based dietary patterns would require
large-scale public health efforts but could be instrumental
in ensuring future human health. In my book How Not to Diet,
in the chapter on habit formation, I talk about how you can change
your existing bad habits to good ones, or establish new good
habits from scratch, using a technique known
as implementation intentions. Instead of vague self-promises
to “do our best,” implementation intentions
are specific if-then plans to perform a particular
behavior in a specific context. They take the form
of When situation X arises, I will perform response Y. For example, If I get hungry
after dinner, I will eat an apple. If the triggering circumstance
is a regular, daily occurrence, implementation intentions can be
the beginning of a beautiful habit. So, what about using Implementation
Intentions to cut down on meat? After all, most food choices
are just due to ingrained habits, and meat is no exception.


Here, they were
trying to get people to change from
a climate perspective, noting more greenhouse gas
emissions from animal ag than all cars, trucks, trains,
ships, and planes combined, but whatever the reason,
researchers randomized people to form “if-then plans”
(for example, “If I visit the university cafeteria
for lunch tomorrow, then I will choose one
of the vegetarian meals”). Motivating people to consciously
form an implementation intention specifically how to implement a goal
seems to be such a simple technique, but it works. Forming an implementation
intention led people not only to think more
often about their intention to reduce meat consumption
but also to eat less meat despite the strong
the force of habit.


On one hand, breaking
a habit may be one of the most challenging
tasks we set ourselves. On the other hand,
a first yet effective step in getting there seems to be
writing down the goal of change in the form of an if-then
statement on a piece of paper. Even a journey of a thousand
miles begins with a single step. How else can we transition
to reduced-meat diets? We talked about making the healthier
option the default option.


We could also minimize disruption,
by producing affordable, recognizable, and tasty
plant-based meat alternatives. The topic of plant-based
meat alternatives have been discussed
for several decades, but it has only recently become
one of the hottest topics in the food
and research communities. After all, one of the largest
perceived barriers to switching diets were the
enjoyment of eating meat, and so, if you can deliver a similar
taste and mouthfeel, it could help people shift. And it seems
like it’s working. In recent years in North America,
plant-meat sales grew by 37 percent. I did a whole 12-part video series
on the human health implications of various meat
substitutes, but that was before
this study came out. The “Study With Appetizing Plantfood—
Meat Eating Alternative Trial”, or SWAP-MEAT. The company that makes
the Beyond Burger decided to put up
or shut up by funding a study
through Chris Gardner’s prestigious lab at Stanford. A randomized crossover
trial to compare the effect of consuming plant-based
alternative meat to animal meat on human health by having people
eat at least 2 servings a day of Plant versus Animal
meat for 8 weeks each, while keeping everything
else as similar as possible.


So, instead of burgers and beef
from cows, sausage from pigs, and breasts from chickens,
they ate burgers, sausage, and chicken made from plants. Now, if they were trying to game
it to give Beyond Meat an advantage, they’d have chosen the worst
possible meats to compare it to, but no, the meats
were organic, and grass-fed to give the fairest
comparison possible. So, what happened? Significant
drop in TMAO levels during the plant-
based meat phase. That’s a good thing,
as I’ve explored before. The consumption of meat and dairy
and eggs can be turned by bad gut bacteria
into trimethylamine, which is oxidized by
our liver into TMAO, which is associated with
heart failure, kidney failure, and our number one killer,
atherosclerosis, the hardening of our arteries. The plant-based meat
the group also achieved a significant drop in cholesterol.


No surprise, given the lower
saturated fat intake. Of course, if they had been
eating whole plant foods instead, like beans, saturated fat
would have been way down, fiber way up,
and sodium way down. There was
no difference in sodium intake; so, no surprise,
no difference in blood pressure. The big surprise was weight. During the plant-
based meat phase, they inadvertently
lost a couple of pounds. Some of the plant-based
meats are highly processed, and normally you’d expect
people to gain weight; however, weight was modestly but
statistically significantly lower after 8 weeks on the Plant
rather than on the Animal phase. Notably, this was observed
despite no differences in reported total
calorie intake or physical activity
levels between each phase. Same calories,
yet less weight. We’ve seen this before. Same calorie restriction,
yet more weight-loss eating more plant-based,
slimmer waist, and less body fat. This may be from the fewer
branched-chain amino acids in plant protein
compared to animal protein or because the resting metabolic
rate in those eating vegetarian is as much as
20 percent higher; so, you’re just burning
more calories in your sleep.

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