Does Tofurkey Subliminally “Glorify” Meat-Eating?

David Siro­ta wrote an arti­cle that sug­gests that the veg­e­tar­i­an prod­ucts that mim­ic meat prod­ucts under­mine veg­e­tar­i­an­ism by glo­ri­fy­ing the con­sump­tion of meat. I had to laugh because I hon­est­ly couldn’t imag­ine Tofurkey glo­ri­fy­ing any­thing. Nor do I think that rice milk glo­ri­fies cow’s milk or that a tofu scram­ble glo­ri­fies eggs. Yet the use of these foods does raise two impor­tant nutri­tion-relat­ed ques­tions: What kind of diet is tru­ly healthy for a human being, and how can we help peo­ple find sat­is­fac­tion and delight from a tru­ly healthy diet?

Many veg­e­tar­i­ans depend heav­i­ly on the soy fake meats and “cheezes” because they are wor­ried about get­ting enough pro­tein in their diet. In real­i­ty, you don’t need to eat fake meat or cheeze to get enough pro­tein. It’s prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find real cas­es of pro­tein defi­cien­cy in peo­ple who were get­ting enough calo­ries from any rea­son­able plant-based diet. To find cas­es of pure pro­tein defi­cien­cy, you have to look at peo­ple who have been fed noth­ing but glu­cose intra­venous­ly, or peo­ple who have a diges­tive or meta­bol­ic dis­ease, or babies who were fed some bizarre sub­sti­tute for breast milk.

Plants pro­vide all of the nutri­ents that are essen­tial for human nutri­tion, except for vit­a­min D and vit­a­min B12. Your body makes its own sup­ply of vit­a­min D if you go out in the sun­shine, and vit­a­min B12 comes from bac­te­ria. So there’s no nutri­tion­al need to include ani­mal-based food in the diet. On the con­trary, the less ani­mal-based food a pop­u­la­tion eats, the low­er its rates of death from heart dis­ease, can­cer, dia­betes, and oth­er chron­ic dis­eases tend to be.

So what about the refined plant-based foods that resem­ble ani­mal foods? Do they pose the same health threats as real ani­mal-based foods? The answer is a bit com­pli­cat­ed. The health threats that they could pose depend on how close­ly they resem­ble the ani­mal-based foods they replace.

Ani­mal-based foods con­tain fat and cho­les­terol but no fiber. No veg­an prod­ucts con­tain any cho­les­terol, but some of them do con­tain a lot of fat and lit­tle or no fiber. Thus, they could pro­mote weight gain and high cho­les­terol lev­els. Pota­to chips are veg­an; but because of all that fat and salt, they’re almost as bad for you as pork rinds.

Ani­mal-based foods con­tain far more pro­tein than you need. This excess pro­tein puts a strain on the liv­er and kid­neys. The “high-qual­i­ty” pro­tein in dairy prod­ucts, in par­tic­u­lar, also caus­es the liv­er to release a pow­er­ful growth hor­mone (IGF-1) that pro­motes the growth of can­cers. Huge serv­ings of soy pro­tein also pro­mote the secre­tion of IGF-1, but to a less­er extent than dairy prod­ucts do.

The pro­teins in ani­mal-based foods are sim­i­lar to but not exact­ly like the pro­teins in the human body. If they find their way into the blood­stream before they are com­plete­ly bro­ken down, they may cause the immune sys­tem to pro­duce anti­bod­ies that go on to attack the body’s own tis­sues. A switch to a plant-based diet can dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduce this risk. How­ev­er, some of the fake ani­mal prod­ucts are based on wheat gluten, which can cause autoim­mune prob­lems in a small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion. For this rea­son, peo­ple with celi­ac dis­ease or oth­er wheat sen­si­tiv­i­ty can­not eat sei­tan.

Real meats and cheeses are high in fat but devoid of starch. The fake stuff also tends to be high in fat and low in starch. All fats are fat­ten­ing, and some of the fats from plant sources are par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful pro­mot­ers of can­cer. The plant-based diets that are tru­ly good for human health are high in fiber and starch and low in fat.

Ani­mals have hor­mones that are very much like our own. When peo­ple eat ani­mal foods, they get a dose of these hor­mones, even if the ani­mals were raised organ­i­cal­ly. Plants have dif­fer­ent hor­mones. Some plants con­tain phy­toe­stro­gens, which are sub­stances that have some sort of effect on estro­gen recep­tors. How­ev­er, some of the phy­toe­stro­gens are estro­gen block­ers or weak estro­gens that com­pete with the body’s nat­ur­al estro­gens, thus decreas­ing the effects that our native estro­gen has on our tis­sues.

Ani­mals absorb tox­ins from their envi­ron­ment and store them in their fat­ty tis­sue. That’s why it’s good to eat “low on the food chain.” The processed fake meats and cheezes are low on the food chain, but you may have to con­sid­er what kinds of addi­tives are in them.

Many peo­ple advo­cate the use of the fake meats and cheezes sort of as train­ing wheels to help peo­ple adjust to a plant-based diet. My con­cern with that approach is that these foods can be unsat­is­fy­ing because they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly taste like the real thing. Rather than serv­ing a food that is a dim echo of some­thing else, why not serve some­thing that can stand on its own? Why eat an unsat­is­fy­ing soy pat­ty when you could eat a gen­uine bean bur­ri­to?

I use a lit­tle bit of tofu or soy milk now and then. The “fake meat” that I use exten­sive­ly is mush­rooms and nutri­tion­al yeast. I make a gar­licky low-fat mush­room gravy and serve it over huge mounds of mashed pota­toes. I add either mush­rooms or nutri­tion­al yeast to hearty stews, and nobody cares that I didn’t use a ham­bone.Pho­to by Andrea_Nguyen

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