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Meat Alternatives: Read The Label Before You Buy

Organic black bean burger with lettuce and tomato

Sales of meat substitutes are soaring because of concerns about personal health and the environment. But not all products are as healthy as advertised. Reading the nutrition label is important. 

Highlights from the interview with Meghan Jardine, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System:

Variety of meatless meats: “You can get veggie burgers, which are the most popular, ground beef, sausage, bacon, chicken tenders and chicken strips, bacon, even hot dogs. They’re made to have the texture and taste of meat, but they don’t have the saturated fat or the cholesterol.”

They’re processed foods: “We still think that they are healthier because meats are higher in saturated fats and cholesterol. There is protein in these products, too.”

How healthy are the meat replacements? “You have to look at the ingredients list. I look for veggie burgers or meat replacements that are made with real food, like whole grains, like oats, quinoa, brown rice, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.” “Also, fiber. Most Americans are not getting recommended 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day, and you’re not going to find any dietary fiber in meat. If it has a lot of ingredients that you don’t what they are, it might be something you could put back on the shelf.”

“There can be preservatives in these foods that some people might want to avoid. Some people want to avoid soy. Some people have allergies to soy, and soy is not important to be healthy.”

What about GMO ingredients: “Most of the soy grown in our country is going to be a GMO soy. So if you want to avoid soy, look for an ingredient or a product that says ‘GMO free.’ Also, if it says ‘certified organic,’ it’s not going to have GMO in it.”

Other things to look for: “You want to look at the serving size and the calories. I like mine to be 150 to 200 calories. I’d look at the fat content. The other thing I would look at is sodium, less than 500 mg. I like to go closer to the 300 mg of sodium. And then at least three grams of fiber. The other thing is to minimize the use of these products. Use them occasionally.”

For more information:

The (Fake) Meat Revolution 

Fake meat sales are growing, but is it really better for you? 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.