Jessica McGee, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC, the Food and Nutrition Services Clinical Nutrition Manager at Children’s National wrote for the Rise and Shine Newsletter that as alternative meat products continue to generate buzz, it is important to understand the ingredients before swapping out meat for meatless. We asked our expert nutritionist Jessica McGee to weigh in on whether fake meat is good or bad for children.
Plant-based products are emerging as the newly popular food choice for meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike, but they may not be the smarter choice for your kid. There are pros and cons to eating meat alternatives so it’s important to be informed when deciding what to feed your child.
Comparing Meat vs. Meatless
One of the challenges we face when selecting meat substitutes is that they are often highly processed, resulting in greater amounts of saturated fat and sodium than the whole plant and even sometimes higher than meats High sodium and saturated fat intake in children is associated with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, respectively, which can raise the risk for heart disease or stroke later in life.
What should parents do before choosing fake meat?
Parents should consider the nutritional facts and big picture so that they can make an informed decision when it comes to meat alternatives. With many foods, there are pros and cons so it’s important to find a balance for your child and family.
Some of the benefits of meat alternatives include added antioxidants and fiber from some of the ingredients in products like soy and whole grains. Another benefit to meat substitutes compared to real meat is food safety and the reduced risk of Salmonella or E.coli infection. Most meat alternatives are already cooked and only require heating, whereas it’s essential to cook raw meat with the appropriate equipment, cleanliness, and proper temperatures. Lastly, environmental sustainability is a huge benefit of reducing meat intake with meat substitutes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states “plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.”