Grilling Green: Meat Alternatives and Health
Blue skies and sunshine. Tan lines and festive drinks. Everyone loves a backyard cookout, but while most people are throwing burgers and dogs on the grill, how do we vegans participate? Welcome to the world of compassionate grilling!
There has often been the stigma that vegan-friendly substitutes fail to compare with animal-based food products. Historically that may have been the case, but in 2019, there is no shortage of delicious, authentic tasting options that you can feel good about. Here are a few of the most popular brands in our area:
- Beyond Meat® is revolutionizing vegan dining with “the world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef without gluten, soy, or GMO’s”. The company’s flagship product, The Beyond Burger®, offers 20g of protein per serving and grills up to perfection. You can also find Beyond Sausage® and Beyond Beef® Crumbles to add variety to your summer gatherings (https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/).
- Gardein® is a household name in the world of ethical plant-based meal solutions, and they offer several items perfect for grilling such as chick’n strips, chipotle black bean burgers, and the ultimate beefless burger (https://www.gardein.com/products/).
- Quorn® is known for their fermented mushroom based products that closely resemble the texture of chicken. The company is primarily vegetarian (most items contain egg), but they do offer a limited vegan specific line and their meatless spicy patties could be grilled using a foil base or baking sheet on the grilling rack (https://www.quorn.us/products/quorn-meatless-spicy-vegan-patties).
If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at making seitan – a protein-rich wheat gluten that can be formed into a range of meat alternatives. Shape your seitan into strips, add your favorite sweet and tangy or hot and smoky barbecue sauce and your taste buds will thank you.
Tofu is another option, and probably the most well-known of the meat replacement products on the market. Tofu is made from soybeans, water, and a curdling agent. It is high in protein, calcium, and iron, and it is low in fat. Tofu is great at absorbing flavors from spices and marinades allowing for a wide range of cooking options and recipes.
Tempeh is closely related to tofu as it is another soy-based protein. Tempeh is made from compressed whole fermented soybeans. This product has a firm and chewy texture making it perfect for marinating and grilling.
HEALTH & WELLNESS
So, now that you know your options, let’s talk health and wellness.
In recent years, there have been several concerns voiced over the consumption of soy, like increased risk of breast cancer, risks to heart health, bad for thyroid function, and compromising for the development of young boys. Are these concerns valid?
- Breast Cancer: Soy is associated with breast cancer, because the medical community associates excess estrogen exposure to breast cancer. Soy contains the highest plant-based level of isoflavones, organic compounds that bind to estrogen receptors and can have similar effects to estrogen. That said, human estrogen is over 1000-times stronger than the effect of soy isoflavones. They also have positive non-hormonal effects such as regulating cell growth and cholesterol. It is also interesting to note that many Asian nations present lower rates of breast cancer despite eating diets rich in soy.
- Heart Health: Contrary to rumors, soy is actually good for your heart. Again, looking to the isoflavones in soy, one can enjoy the benefits of lower blood pressure and lower levels of bad cholesterol. Scientists believe that it is the isoflavones in soy that encourages the production of nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates blood vessels and reduces the pressure on vessel walls. Furthermore, due to the high levels of protein and fiber found in soy, many people experience a reduction in LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Animal protein is rich in saturated fats, while soy is not, making a plant-based diet the better choice.
- Thyroid Issues: The medical research currently available advises that soy may be problematic for individuals with existing thyroid conditions, especially those on medication, but that people with normally functioning thyroid may not be adversely affected. The issue surrounds the absorption of thyroid medication. Soy can block uptake in the GI tract and make medication less effective. One suggestion is to wait several hours after taking thyroid pills before consuming any soy-based foods, and definitely consult with your physician over dietary concerns.
- Boys: As stated earlier, the isoflavones in soy bind to estrogen receptors and therefore can increase estrogen hormone in the body. It is this function of soy that have some worried the plant-based protein may interfere with male hormone production and inhibit proper sexual development in boys. While soy can interact with a boy’s estrogen levels, groups such as The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine state that males who consume soy may actually benefit from the phytoestrogens present by reducing risk of breast and prostate cancer.
So, as you prepare to don your apron and fire up the grill this season, keep in mind the plentiful plant-based options that allow you to compassionately and ethically participate at the cookouts with friends and family. As with any food, it is best to consume meatless alternatives in moderation. Unless you are preparing your meals from scratch, remember that pre-processed plant-based products are higher in added sugars, fats, refined flours, and preservatives, just like their animal-based counterparts. Fruit and vegetable kebabs are always a healthful option for the grill if you’re looking to forego the meat vibe entirely!
Larlyn Muller – AASCPA