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There’s no doubt that meatless burgers are now a thing.  And don’t think it’s just the nutty vegetarians either.  Even meat eaters are turning to plant-based proteins.  All sorts of companies and even Wall Street have taken notice.  They’re excited to cash in the new craze.  But why is it a craze anyway?  I mean, what’s the big deal about fake meat?  Is it really practical?  And for that matter, healthy?

The most notable company feeding this movement is Beyond Meat in Los Angeles, California.  They IPO’d in May and are already doubled..TWICE.  They also bring in over $200 million.  In fact, you can already find their products in KFC,  Subway, Dunkin’,  Famous Dave’s and many, many more.1

It’s not just Beyond Meat either.  There is an entire fake meat industry.  You may have heard of Tyson Foods or perhaps Impossible Meat.  Both do meatless protein as well and compete against Beyond Meat.  In fact, competition is intense and will only increase.

Why People Do Fake Meat

There are a few reasons this move from animal to plant-based protein is happening.  First, many people consider red meat to be unhealthy and with good reason.2  Of course, red meat in and of itself is not harmful and in fact it can be quite healthy, but for many people it is easier to classify foods as either “good” or “bad.”  Fake meat lets them have their meat and eat it too.

Others shun meat because of their bleeding hearts.  They don’t like the whole meat industry that, in their view, is cruelty to animals justified by capitalism.  On top of that, producing meat requires lots of land and resources.  As the world grows in population, having more and more animals around to feed everyone is viewed as unsustainable.  Besides, cows fart a lot and as silly as it may be, many worry that this contributes to global warming.  In fact, taxing bovine flatulence has been talked about worldwide for years.  California has even passed a law regulating it.3

The Down-Sides To Real Meat

There are of course potential down-sides to real meat that even carnivores must admit to.  First of all, meat, particularly red meat, is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.  Both are necessary for survival, but only in limited amounts.  Too much can be a problem.4  Specifically, a heart problem.  Plus, meat can quite easily harbor bacteria that can cause illness.  Of course, that is precisely why we cook it, but unless you char your steak, there’s still at least a little risk.

For some, this is a no-brainer.  Replace red meat with plant-based meat and you eliminate these ‘bad’ things.  Plus you get a lot of phytonutrients that aren’t in meat.  However, like I mentioned, fat and cholesterol are actually ‘good,’ it’s just too much of them that are ‘bad.’  Plus, meat provides nutrients like vitamin B-12 and iron, that you just don’t get from plants.

Does Fake Meat Make You Live Longer?

Naturally, it’s too early in the game to say for sure.  Nevertheless, the outlook for living longer because of plant-based meats is not too bright.  While it is a healthy alternative to the over-consumption of your typical McDonald’s hamburger, its more complicated than simply deciding if a plant-based diet is ‘better’ than a meat-based one.  After all, we are naturally omnivores, not herbivores.  This is because there are nutrients we need that ONLY come from meat.

Consider the individual person as well.  Not everyone is the same and so really can’t be lumped together.  For instance, we often hear that we should eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat.  Whose we anyway?  I probably eat more fruits, veggies AND red meat every day than most people eat in a week.  Plus, I exercise intensely for at least an hour every day.  One of those workouts is usually a run that lasts up to 2 hours.

So, am I we?  It sure doesn’t seem to be the case.  You probably aren’t either.  So, if you are like me, you likely have little to worry about when it comes to your diet.  But if you are 100 lbs. overweight and never exercise, chances are you need to hit the fresh foods isle at the grocery store A LOT more.

So, What Do We Know For Sure?

As much as anti-meat folks would like to deny it, meat is essential to optimal health.  And yes, that includes red meat.  The problem arises when we talk about most people that eat a lot of meat.  They eat it INSTEAD of fruits and vegetables.  Thus, the natural assumption is that they are unhealthy because of the meat rather than considering their overall diet.

We also know that diets high in fruits and vegetables is a healthy plan.  They are chock full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.  The flip-side here is that they are very low in protein and almost none contain complete proteins.  Eating a variety of them does away with the complete problem, but not with overall protein.  Most people need about 1g of protein for every pound of bodyweight.  This just can’t realistically be done without meat.

Is Fake Meat the Answer then?

It would seem that plant derived meats solve all our problems.  We still get the protein we need, normally from meat, but with all the nutrients from plants.  Perfect, right?  Perhaps in theory, but unfortunately, many fake meats actually have similar fat and cholesterol contents to their animal counterparts.

Whatever your take on fake meat, it isn’t going away.  Even meat-eaters can’t deny the genius of plant-based meats.  Especially as they become more and more mainstream and inexpensive, fewer and fewer cows will be around to pass gas.