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As noted in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association on plant-based meat alternatives, just looking at the nutrition facts info of a regular burger versus Beyond Meat or the Impossible Burger, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict the health consequences without further studies. But we’ve had plant-based meat alternatives for over a century. I mean, who wouldn’t want a can of good eatin’ Protose? It is, after all, the modern vegetable meat patent filed by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in 1899.
Of course, “products such as tofu and tempeh have existed in Asia for centuries,” but I think of those as separate foods in their own right, as opposed to products intentionally designed to mimic the taste and texture of meat. With such a rich history, harkening back to the days of pass-the-Proteena, you’d think there’d be some studies of consumers. And indeed, there are. For example, girls who eat meat may start their periods six months earlier than girls who don’t. Is it just because they’re eating lots of protein and fat? Evidently not, because girls who instead are eating meat analogues, like veggie burgers and veggie dogs, are able to delay menstruation by nine months. Of course, it’s hard to tease out how much of that is just from avoiding meat. But compared with girls who eat meat just a few times a week, those who ate meat a few times a day had a significantly earlier age of first menstruation, which also may help provide an explanation for why childhood meat consumption is linked to breast cancer later in life, since the earlier you start your period, the higher your lifetime risk.
Now, obesity itself may contribute to the early onset of puberty in girls. So, that could be another factor. Studies have suggested vegetarian children tend to be leaner than nonvegetarian children. They aren’t smaller in general, though. Vegetarian boys and girls may measure up to be about an inch taller than their classmates; they just aren’t as wide. So, the fact that girls who eat plant-based meats may be less likely to suffer from premature puberty may, in part, be because they were leaner.
Indeed, childhood obesity research found meat consumption seemed to double the odds of schoolchildren becoming overweight, compared to the consumption of plant-based meat. Now, whole plant food sources of protein, such as beans, did even better though, associated with cutting in half the odds of kids becoming overweight. So, that’s why I consider these kinds of plant-based meats more of a useful stepping stone towards a healthier diet, rather than the endgame ideal. The same amount of protein in a bean burrito would be better in nearly every way.
Similarly, in terms of hip fracture risk, in the Adventist 2 study following tens of thousands of men and women for years, daily intake of plant-based meats appeared to reduce the risk of hip fracture by nearly half; but daily legume intake—beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils—may drop risk of hip fracture by even more, nearly two thirds.
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