Eat Meat or Leaves?
Are plant-based products better for your health?
That's a tough one, but let us try to sort through the weeds, pun intended, and see if we can make sense of all this. Understand that my goal is to investigate, inform, and have a little fun-first, some basics about calories, fats, nutrition, and misleading food labels. I'll try to keep this complicated topic simple. If you want to get wonky about all this, here's a pretty good take on the topic of fats and nutrition:https://www.precisionnutrition.com/is-saturated-fat-good-or-bad.
Some basics; most content labels deal in grams of weight, so;
- There are 28 grams to an ounce or 448 grams (16 oz) to a pound.
- Protein and carbs = four calories per gram of weight
- Fat = 9 calories per gram weight, so fat delivers over twice as many calories per unit of weight as protein and carbs.
- Fat content on labels varies. Some labels measure fat content by weight. Example: Weight of one serving = 95 grams and 230 calories.
- Fat content for one serving on the label by weight = 5% or 4.75 grams of the total 95 grams (95 X .05). If 4.75 grams is the fat content at nine calories per gram, that = 42.75 total calories of fat by weight. 42.75 divided by 95 grams (weight of one serving) = 45% fat content as counted by calories. Using the 5% fat in grams content makes it look lower in fat; the industry is pushing a low-fat content, but the numbers are misleading.
- If you're doing the math, the other 55% is not all protein and carbs; read the label, and there are likely things you never heard of or can even pronounce going into the food.
- When nutrition guidelines at various sites show recommended daily fat content, it is a percentage of calories, not the product's weight.
- Finally, the NIH (National Institute of Health) recommends the following daily intake for nutrients (sometimes referred to as RDA or RDI) in grams or milligrams for children over four and adults based on a 2,000 calorie a day intake:
- Fat Grams (g) 78
- Saturated fat Grams (g) 20
- Cholesterol Milligrams (mg) 300
- Total carbohydrates Grams (g) 275
- Sodium Milligrams (mg) 2,300
- Dietary Fiber Grams (g) 28
- Protein Grams (g) 50
- Added sugars Grams (g) 50
Are you bored yet? I hope not. My point is to look at all this plant-based stuff and decide if it is really helping anyone but the manufacturers of the plant-based product's cash in more profits. I looked at three typical plant-based Italian sausages and two made from meat that I'm familiar with, and I'd guess most folks are. Here are the labels: obviously, if you're listening to the audio, you can't see them, but if you glommed onto the audio from the website, you can; I'm not going to read all the details, but I will give some highlights.
That's a busy little collection of labels in the graphic, but I've circled and added in red the stuff I want to focus on; calories, fat content by weight, and saturated fats. From left to right on the chart, the first three labels are for plant-based Italian sausages (VWs - veggie weenies). I've intentionally left out the company names, so I don't get sued, hopefully. The last two on the right are two nationally well-known meat producers' sausages, Johnsonville and Isernio's, a Northwest specialty company. I hope I haven't pissed them off by keeping their names in the mix.
There are a couple of variables to be considered in this analysis. The first two veggie weenies (VWs) are 68g for one link or serving. The third VW is 90g, so I've shown the calories per gram in red (for weenie #1, that's 150 calories divided by 68g). I've done that across the board, and only one product, the Johnsonville weenie, is slightly higher in calories per gram. If you look across the graphic, you'll quickly see in the red circles that the Johnsonville weenie is higher in total fat and saturated fats, accounting for the higher calorie content. So, what is the difference? Here are a couple of "typical plant-based Italian sausage content" lists.
Example #1: Ingredients - Water, Pea Protein, Sunflower Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains Less Than 2% of Spices, Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Dried Parsley, Vegetable And Fruit Juices (For Color), Natural Flavors, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sugar, Rice Bran Extract, Methylcellulose, Casing: Sodium Alginate, Konjac Gum, Guar Gum.
Example #2: Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein, Canola Oil, Modified Cellulose (From Plant Fiber), Less Than 2% of Natural Flavors, Cane Sugar, Salt, Tapioca Starch, Citrus Fiber, Fava Bean Protein, Brown Rice Protein, Dried Red Bell Peppers, Beet Powder (Color), Yeast Extract, Dried Torula Yeast, Paprika Extract (Color). In a calcium alginate casing.
Example #3: Ingredients: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil, 2% Or Less of Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Salt, Natural Flavors, Cultured Dextrose, Spices, Food Starch Modified, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Soy Leghemoglobin, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate
On the other hand, the meat weenies are higher in fat content than the veggie weenies, except for VW #3 in the middle. The first two VWs are lower in weight and calories, but #3 is comparable to the meat weenies in weight and total calories. My conclusion is that if all the weenies were the same size (is bigger better?), the numbers would be similar across the board.
The key focus should probably be on the saturated fat content; if the VWs were produced in comparable sizes, two of the three would come close to having the same amount of sat-fats. The meat weenies obviously get their sat-fat from animal fats, but the VWs get theirs from things like coconut oil which, if you read the saturated fat piece I linked above, isn't all that great for you.
I'll leave you to contemplate all this, assuming you give a shit. Still, my conclusion, having tasted some of this plant-based stuff, is that there is a big difference in taste in my opinion ( 🎶 I'm a carnivore, you're a carnivore, everyone's a carnivore, too 🎶), and I'll opt for the meat version. I know the wegans (that's not a typo - I'm making fun of you with love) make a big deal out of climate impact, etc. Still, I'd like to see the impact on our environment for crap like Coconut Oil, Methylcellulose, Soy Leghemoglobin (what the hell is that? Globin? As in hemoglobin? See the note following), Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), and Soy Protein Isolate. I feel confident in saying that shit isn't growing on trees.
I did a Google search on ol' Leghorn up there and found this explanation. "Leghemoglobin: Ferric leghemoglobin reductase (FLbR) is an enzyme that catalyzes the reduction of ferric leghemoglobin (Lb) to its functional ferrous form using pyridine nucleotides as reductants." Now that's some scary shit in my book.🤣
I love the planet huggers who want to do the right thing. We try in so many ways in our home to do some of that, but when I want pasta con salsiccia or a nice Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions, I guess I'm going old school and sacrificing a pig for that. My apologies to the wegans for pissing you off.
Go forth and try different things; that's what life should be about.