Meatless Meat, Milkless Milk, and Sugarless Sugar

False GloryWhat is the meaning of this? Two trends in food are on a collision course. On one hand, faith is strong in the idea that minimally processed and whole natural foods are best. But at the same time, food substitutes are rising like rockets. Sales are soaring for meatless meat. Milkless milk is a 2.2 billion dollar business. There’s even a new sugar that isn’t sugar (according to FDA) and the folks who make it can’t keep up with explosive demand for it.

Replacing All Meat in 15 Years?

Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods is on a mission. Of course, one part of that mission is to make gobs of money. But the mission he talks about is replacing all meat from animals within 15 years – to save the planet, animals, and our health. He told the Washington Post that he can make fake meat that’s better than real meat:

“We can make a product that’s vastly better nutritionally and we can make it more delicious than the animal. We’re not stuck with making cows and pigs and chickens. We control the knobs.”

We’re not sure what to do with that knob metaphor. It reminds us that these meatless meats are indeed ultra-processed foods. So what does that say about the nutrition claims that Brown is making?

A Substitute or Compliment?

New research in Scientific Reports tells us to take those claims with a grain of salt. Stephan van Vliet and colleagues analyzed the nutrition and metabolic profiles of grass-fed meat and plant-based meat. They found “large differences” in the metabolic profiles although the Nutrition Facts panels were similar for these two products. The nutrients and metabolites that research subjects received were not the same for meat and meat substitutes. This doesn’t mean that meatless meats are inferior. They are simply different.

Dietitian Laura Andromalos spoke at the YWM2021 convention yesterday about the importance of a more plant-based diet. She explained and demonstrated many ways of pursuing this goal. But she told us that these highly processed meat substitutes “are not something we would prefer to base our diets around.” She views them as a convenience food for occasional use.

Favoring Clarity

One thing is clear. The landscape for food is becoming muddled. Hypesters and taste makers aim to sell us meat that isn’t meat, milk that isn’t milk, and sugar that isn’t sugar. Linn Steward is an RDN and culinary nutritionist who works at analyzing food and what’s in it. She tells us that making sense of all this will be quite a task:

“I’m seeing more and more complexity. The stakes are high. Activists and evangelicals on both sides of food issues are passionate about their positions. It’s going to take a long time for consumers to sort out their choices. It’s also going to take time for government regulators and nutrition researchers to work though the health implications. In the meantime, I favor a few good rules to keep the players honest.

“I’m gradually coming to think we should not allow these manufacturers to call their products meat.”

We favor clarity about the food we consume and what it is. We also have more confidence in eating real, whole, and minimally processed foods. Fake food just doesn’t appeal, no matter how much hype surrounds it.

Click here for the study by van Vliet et al, here for more on the hype for meat substitutes, here for more on milkless milk, and here for more on the demand for sugar that isn’t sugar. For more on the rise of plant-based, ultra-processed food, click here.

False Glory, artwork by Odilon Redon / Art Institute of Chicago

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July 18, 2021