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"Real" meat or "fake" meat?

Which is better for you?

By Maliki GomezPublished 6 months ago 3 min read
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A survey conducted in 2021 revealed that nearly two-thirds of Americans had consumed plant-based meat alternatives within the past year. The main reasons cited were the potential health benefits and positive environmental impact. However, it is essential to determine whether these alternative meats are truly advantageous for both our well-being and the planet. First, let's introduce the contenders. Farmed meat, which comes from butchered animals, is a complex composition of muscle fibers, connective tissues, and fat. It has played a significant role in the human diet throughout history. On the other hand, plant-based meat alternatives may resemble and taste like meat, but they are made up of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other components derived from plants. The process of transforming plant molecules into meat-like structures requires considerable effort. For instance, the fibrous texture of meat is achieved by using long rod-like proteins. To replicate this structure, ball-shaped plant proteins can be pushed through an extruder device, forcing them to unwind and form long filaments. Companies also add fats and oils extracted from plants to mimic animal fat. Some brands even incorporate beet juice pigment or an iron-containing molecule called heme to enhance the appearance and flavor of their products. Plant-based meat alternatives are available in various forms. Additionally, there is lab-grown meat, also known as cell-based meat or cultured meat. These products begin with animal stem cells that researchers cultivate and shape into muscle tissue. It is important to note that lab-grown meats are still in the development stage, and the exact production process may change when they are commercially available on a larger scale. When considering the health aspect, farmed meat is a valuable source of protein and nutrients. However, studies have shown links between diets high in red and processed meats and health concerns such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. One study from 2012 suggested that replacing red meat with alternatives like chicken, nuts, or legumes for one meal a day could potentially reduce mortality risk by 7 to 19%. The impact of replacing red meat with plant-based patties or lab-grown meat requires further research, as there is insufficient data available. Plant-based meat alternatives offer similar amounts of protein, calories, and iron as farmed meat, but they are highly processed and tend to be high in sodium. Many of these alternatives also contain coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat and may increase the risk of heart disease, similar to red meat. Lab-grown meat has the potential to offer comparable nutritional qualities and health risks as farmed meat, but more research is needed. In terms of environmental impact, animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 14.5% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers estimate that producing plant-based meat substitutes results in around 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to beef, 63% less than pork, and 51% less than poultry, per equivalent amount. Plant-based alternatives also require significantly less land and water compared to farmed meat. Additionally, their production results in lower levels of pollutants entering waterways, which helps protect the environment and public health. However, it is uncertain how lab-grown meat will impact the environment once production is scaled up. Currently, the industry primarily obtains stem cells from livestock muscle tissue, raising questions about the number of animals required for biopsies. It is also unclear to what extent alternative meats will reduce the overall environmental impact of the farmed meat industry. If people continue to consume the same amount of farmed meat while incorporating alternative options, the potential benefits might be limited. While the nutritional superiority of different meat options is still debated, those concerned about animal welfare, public health, and the environment often choose plant-based meat alternatives. It is important to note that transitioning to meat alternatives does not have to be an all-or-nothing decision

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