Watch Out for Vegetarian Mock Meat

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People are becoming more health-conscious in this modern age as we see an increase of people adopting a vegetarian diet. This is also visible with the increase in the range of vegetarian food items available in shopping malls. The most popular vegetarian food items available in the vegetarian aisle of every shopping centre today are mock meat (also popularly known as artificial meat or meat substitute).

Meat substitutes are made from different types of ingredients including but not limited to soybeans, mushrooms, legumes, tempeh, wheat gluten (seitan) and vegetables. Food technology has improved so much in recent years that vegetarian mock meat can also imitate the exact flavour of real meat. However, how healthy are these mock meat? Their nutritional value is analysed and provided in the information below:

Soybean is commonly known for its high source of protein. It is recognised to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as alleviating symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis. Many vegetarian products, particularly mock meat, are made from soybean. Vegetarians have considered this ingredient as a necessary daily nutrition without knowing the extent of the effect of soybean on one’s health.

High content of Phytic acid can be found in soybean, which obstructs the absorption of essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, copper and zinc in the body. Consuming soy products in the long run can cause lethargy, weak muscles and slow growth of cells. Research has shown that soybean contains a chemical called phytoestrogens (isoflavones).This chemical has high antioxidant properties that may help prevent oxidation or cell damage caused by free radicals. However, it also increases the estrogen level in the body, which can affect the reproductive system in the body such as interrupting women’s menopause cycle and reducing masculinity in men.

Soybean also contains goitrogens; substances that suppresses the function of the thyroid gland. The reduction of thyroid function can lead to weight gain and one faces difficulty in his or her attempt to lose weight. This is likely to lead to obesity.

Furthermore, due to the high demand of soy-based products, sources quote that 90% of soybeans are now manufactured from genetically modified organisms (GMO), which increases the risk of harmful effects on one’s health. Pesticides are also widely used to increase production of soybean, which means that they are highly contaminated and can be cancerous to the human body.

Tempeh from Indonesia, fermented and cultured soybean in a cake form, is however believed to be rich in nutrition such as proteins, vitamins and fibre that can also reduce phytic acid.

Mushroom based
Edible mushrooms are fairly rich with minerals and vitamins like Vitamin B and D, magnesium, zinc, Selenium, dietary fibre and protein. A popular example of edible mushrooms used as a meat substitute is Shitake. This ingredient is widely available in Southeast Asia. Clinical studies have tested that Shitake mushrooms contain healthy properties that can boost one’s immune system. It also helps lower one’s cholesterol level, inhibits viruses and is also known as an anti-tumour.

Nevertheless, like every other food items, high consumption of Shitake or other types of edible mushrooms can have an adverse effect on the body. The American Cancer Society claimed that this may lead to digestive problems such as bloating, stomachache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some individuals after consuming mushrooms have also been observed to suffer from symptoms such as rashes, throat irritation or runny nose. Some other more severe reactions include swelling of the throat, face and nose, increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing and severe skin lesions.

Therefore, be very careful when consuming mushrooms. Always keep watch if you suffer from any of the reactions listed above. If you do, stay away from this ingredient as allergy reactions can sometime lead to death.

Wheat Gluten (Seitan)
Another popular ingredient found in mock meat is made from wheat gluten. This is obtained from washing the wheat flour dough under running water until the starch dissolves and removed. The remaining insoluble gluten is like an elastic mass, which contains protein and has a chewy and stretchy texture similar to real meat, and is used for cooking.

Gluten takes a longer time to be digested. Therefore, it is considered an enemy to those suffering from chronic digestive disorder such as the celiac disease. Researchers from University of Marylane Center discovered that gluten is a malicious invader and mount an immune response. This reaction gradually damages the small intestine by slowing or preventing the minerals and vitamins from being absorbed into the body. This can result in gastrointestinal distress and nutritional deficiencies. General symptoms of these include bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue and severe skin reaction.

Vegetable cutlets
Vegetable cutlets are made from a mixture of different vegetables. They are not only delicious, but nutritious as well. These are probably the best meat substitute products available in the market today. However, they cannot beat the quality of homemade vegetable cutlets!

We cannot be so sure whether or not mass-produced vegetable cutlets are really made from fresh vegetables. Commercial manufacturers usually use processed or frozen vegetables with high amount of seasoning, preservatives and artificial flavouring. Nutritionists believe that Vitamin B and C are significantly reduced as vegetables and fruits are frozen.

For those of you who are into vegetable cutlets, try making them yourself to ensure that you can benefit from the nutrition in the ingredients used.

Salt, Seasoning and Artificial Flavouring
Meat substitute products often come with a variety of flavour to replicate the actual meat taste. Did you know that manufacturers have added plenty of flavouring ingredients just to achieve this? All these flavouring add extra workload to the digestive system. Research has also revealed that chemicals found in these products weaken the body system over time.

Salt (Sodium) is the main ingredient used in many ready-made vegetarian meals. This is used to improve the taste. Although healthcare professionals recognise the importance of having a certain amount of sodium in our diet, excessive intake of salt can however jeopardize our health leading to diseases such as high blood pressure, stomach cancer, heart attack, stroke, malfunctioning of the liver, obesity and more.

To improve the taste of mock meat, manufacturers also include an ingredient called Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). This ingredient is used heavily in Chinese cooking. Heart patients have been observed to suffer from rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations) and even chest pain after consuming Monosodium Glutamate. Other symptoms include flushing, facial pressure, numbness, nausea and general weakness.

At the end of the day, although being vegetarian is known to lead to a healthier body, excessive intake of mock meat is not recommended. No doubt mock meat does give the body the necessary nutrients lost in not consuming real meat, however as already seen in the above, they can also adversely affect the body. Vegetarians are therefore encouraged to practice ‘moderation’ in their intake of artificial meat products.

If you are vegetarian, try going green! Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits and cut away from highly-processed food items. There are so many alternative sources of protein, which are suitable for vegetarians. These include (but not limited to) beans, lentils, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.

Related Articles:
Why Be Vegetarian?

Authors: Eileen Wong & Genevieve Tan Shu Thung

Copyright © 2012 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources
Holistic Living Annex (Volume 1, Issue 6 - JUNE 2012 Edn)

3 Responses for “ Watch Out for Vegetarian Mock Meat”

  1. So WRONG! says:

    And I thought being vegetarian was 100% healthy! LOL

  2. kelly says:

    Thanks for this article! MSG contains aspartame linked to 190 ailments. Many soda drinks have aspartame and in in my book, prime suspect for fit young joggers dropping dead.

    Yes, there are many ways in which vegetarians eat "wrongly". Nutrition is just not about getting the right amount of proteins or carbohydrates any more. With increasingly more processed foods, nutrition is not as simple any more.

  3. Arasu says:


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