Walking through the meat and dairy aisles of the grocery store, the increased presence of alternatives to traditional animal products is undeniable. Multiple brands of almond and oat milk often occupy a full refrigerator door next to one filled with all the variances in cows milk and in the freezer section it is now customary to include meat alternatives beyond just veggie patties, such as mock nuggets and burgers.
This greater prevalence of meat and dairy alternatives makes it easier for the growing number of people transitioning to a more plant based diet to eat less animal products. Students have cited these alternatives as a helpful tool in shifting to a vegetarian, vegan, or partially plant based diet.
“I’ve been vegetarian for three years and I have found it very easy to make sure I am getting enough food and nutrients in,” senior Takouhi Asdorian said. “There are a lot of really good plant based alternatives and especially in San Francisco many restaurants offer delicious and healthy vegetarian options besides salads.”
Some of the most popular plant based meat alternatives include Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Quorn, JUST, and Tofurky. Their products range from alternatives to chicken, beef, pork, turkey and eggs and they attempt to replicate such products in texture, smell, and taste.
Although Beyond Meat and Impossible burger patties contain zero cholesterol, are lower in total and saturated fat than a beef burger patty, and similar in protein and calories as a beef burger patty, they are both higher in sodium, and currently there is no existing evidence to support whether these nutrient differences in meat replacements provide any notable health benefits, according to Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.
For many, plant based meat alternatives allow those concerned about the cancerous effect of red meat or the possibility of antibiotic resistance associated with consuming animal products to enjoy their favorite foods without compromising taste or health. Over 79 million Americans used meat alternatives in 2019, and this figure was projected to increase to 80.22 million in 2023, according to Statistica.
“It has been really easy for me to transition to a plant based diet because for every food I want to eat there is a vegan alternative,” senior Maddie Drda said. “There is barely a difference between the meat alternatives that I eat compared to what I used to consume and they don’t come from animals, nor do they have a carbon footprint associated with them.”
Plant based meat and dairy alternatives are not however the only way to satisfy one’s nutritional necessities. Protein sources such as lentils, soy products, beans, hemp seeds, and nuts are just as effective at ensuring that those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are able to meet average protein requirements.
“I really recommend trying to transition to a more plant based lifestyle as there are lots of good foods that don’t contain meat,” Asdorian said. “You also don’t have to cut out meat completely, small changes are enough to make an impact on your health and the environment.”