It's a cheeseburger! It's a hot dog! It's isolated soy protein?
The vegan diet is at an all-time high in popularity. With celebrities, ex-presidents and even Mickey Mouse getting his vegan fix on, the sales of faux meat-like substances are skyrocketing. 2008 saw more than $4 billion in soy product sales, often the main ingredient in mock meats. But are they really good for you?
Often called "transitional foods" and lauded by animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to lure meatheads into a satisfying cruelty free diet, there's mock chicken, turkey, sausages, chorizos, deli meats, even mock shrimp available; but some experts argue that these foods offer their own risks.
Consider the devastating loss of rainforest in Brazil due to farming soy or the toxic chemical hexane used in isolating soy protein, or even the excessively processed nature of mock meats which include lots of salt and a mash-up of unhealthy sounding ingredients. Top selling Boca Burgers contain hydrolyzed wheat protein, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, methylcellulose and a 'non-meat' artificial flavor, according to their Web site. And Philip Morris, the giant tobacco company, owns them.
There's no question that adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is the healthiest diet choice. Treat mock meats like you would regular meats and eat them sparingly or not at all. Definitely stick with brands whose ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. If you do your homework, you can find meat alternatives that are far healthier than others (and certainly healthier than animal-based products.) Here's some faves:
From the Organic Authority Files
Best of the Bunch
Field Roast: They make slices, roasts, meat loaves and sausages. They're wheat based, so if you're intolerant, you're out of luck. By far, they're the best tasting products available.
Sunshine Burgers: Sunflower seed veggie burgers? Yep. Light-years better than the soy burgers and count 'em, only five ingredients: ground raw sunflower seeds, brown rice, carrots, herbs, sea salt.
Tofurky: Inventors of the popular Thanksgiving feast, they use non-GMO ingredients and hexane free soy in their slices, tempeh and sausages too. Founder, Seth Tibbott, is about as genuinely awesome as they come. Imagine if your Dad embraced veganism and moved to Oregon to make faux turkey. Awesome, right?
Gardein: Oprah's Conscious Cook, Tal Ronnen, helped formulate these products, and while the ingredient list is a bit long, that's mostly due to the herbs and spices in the products. They're not organic, but they're made from real ingredients and a unique protein blend.
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Photo: RainChurch courtesy of Creative Commons