Women's Health

What is plant-based seafood – and is it healthy?


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The plant-based “meat” industry has seen tremendous growth in recent years, as plant-only options are getting closer to the real deal in taste and texture. Historically, plant-based protein options were limited to beef, pork, and poultry lookalikes. Even meat giant Tyson Foods is getting in on the act with its introduction of vegan bratwurst and burger patties. But plant-based “fish” seems to be the next frontier of plant-based meat.

Plant-based seafood, including tuna and salmon mimics, are beginning to emerge as an available option. A big part of the lag compared to other meatless meats is that seafood is much harder to breed than beef, chicken, or pork. But now, with more research and development dollars being poured into imitation fish, you may have noticed new products emerging rapidly. Plant-based seafood sales are up about 23% in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

While there are several sustainable options when it comes to choosing seafood, many people decide to forgo the fishmonger altogether in order to switch to a “greener” plant-based diet. Concerns about overfished fisheries, contaminants, pollution from fish farms, and unethical working conditions in some segments of the fishing industry are often cited as reasons people turn to manufactured fish. from plants. Some fish farms, including catfish, can generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And some simply view these products as a natural progression to a more plant-based diet.

Vegetable seafood is certainly a very interesting concept. But should you buy? Here’s everything you need to know about the plant food that’s reached uncharted waters.

What is plant-based seafood?

In supermarkets and increasingly in restaurants, you can now find plant-based versions of breaded fish fillets, crab cakes, canned tuna, prawns, fish sticks, eel sushi, tuna spread and fish burgers prepared not with wild or farmed fish, but rather with elements such as textured soy protein, pea protein isolate, seaweed powder (helps authenticity of flavor), yeasts and seasonings. On the horizon is sushi-grade cell-grown (meaning lab-grown from living fish cells, rather than plant-based) salmon that can be produced in the middle of any megalopolis.

Through extensive research and development, these fish-free options are designed to best mimic the flavor, texture, and appearance of regular seafood. In many cases, plant-based seafood can taste and mouthfeel pretty close to the real deal without the overpowering fishy smell. For now, however, canned tuna has some way to go. But it’s pretty good in a “tuna” salad.

Is faux seafood nutritious?

In many ways, comparing seafood with plant-based versions is like comparing beans with beef – they are not nutritionally identical.

The list of ingredients in these products can be read like a chemistry quiz, with curious elements like methylcellulose, autolyzed yeast extract and potato starch. So, by definition, much of the non-fish seafood on the market can be considered ultra-processed foods – packaged foods that have been significantly modified with a range of manufactured ingredients. Unlike ultra-processed foods which have been linked to poorer heart health, we have good evidence that eating fish, especially omega-3 rich species like salmon and sardines, may be beneficial. for various health measures, including overall heart function, which is why the American Heart Association recommends consuming at least two servings of oily fish per week.

Nowadays, we have no research on the health effects of regularly consuming these heavily processed fake seafood. Chances are that as long as your overall diet focuses on whole foods, adding fish burgers and plant-based fish sticks to your menu rotation probably won’t present much of a challenge for the family. health. And eating them probably won’t be as detrimental as eating other ultra-processed foods like sodas, donuts, or cheese puffs. Do not become dependent on them for their convenience. Beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh will always be more nutritious foods from the plant kingdom.

The ingredient list of many seafood alternatives often includes soy protein or pea protein, giving them a protein dose ranging from as little as 3 grams to almost 20 grams per serving. For comparison, 3 ounces of farmed salmon provides about 17 grams of protein. Generally, burgers without fish will be higher in protein than something like plant-based canned tuna or shrimp. The type of protein in actual fish may be considered higher quality due to the higher levels of essential amino acids, but soy and pea are protein sources that are nearly on par with those of animal origin. If you serve a fish product that is plant-based and low in protein, you will need to make up for the lack elsewhere in your diet.

Some products incorporate algae oil for a dose of the same omega-3s you’d get from the marine world, and it’s an addition to celebrate. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and algae are predictive of mortality, meaning more of these fats could mean extra years in your life. Keep in mind that the omega-3s you’ll get from these products may not be on the same level as you’d get from fatty swimmers like salmon, mackerel, and black cod. Unfortunately, manufacturers aren’t always transparent about how much omega-3 their products provide. But if you ditch fish for plant-based fish, these products can be a valuable source of those mega-healthy fats, even if they’re not perfect.

It should be noted that, compared to meatless products like burgers and sausages designed to mimic red meat, fishless fish generally contains much less saturated fat than unsaturated fat, which can be a win for your heart health. It’s probably because they’re not trying to imitate something like a beef burger or a pork sausage which can contain high amounts of saturated fat. Unless breaded and fried, most fish are not a significant source of saturated fat.

It’s also worth keeping an eye out for sodium levels, which can be significantly higher than those found in their real fish counterparts. So if you eat a product with a high amount of sodium listed on the Nutrition Facts table, just be sure to moderate your intake elsewhere in your diet.

One potential nutritional benefit that these seafood imposters provide is dietary fiber. Some products provide up to 5 grams of fiber in a serving, which you won’t get with regular seafood. This makes them useful for making up for the lack of fiber that so many people are dug into. But getting most of the fiber you need from whole, plant-based foods like legumes, fruits, and vegetables is probably healthier than a can of fake tuna.

A lower risk of consuming contaminants like mercury and microplastics as well as residue from antibiotics used in some fish farms, like shrimp, is one of the reasons some people are making the switch. But at current levels of seafood consumption in America, it’s debatable whether the intake of contaminants like mercury from seafood is at levels that pose a risk to healthy people who aren’t pregnant. .

People with allergies to soy or wheat will need to read ingredient lists carefully, as most products contain one or both.

The essential

For those already adhering to a vegetarian or vegan diet, plant-based seafood offers a viable additional food choice where there were no options before. And in some cases, it can help address global fisheries concerns. It can be overwhelming navigating the waters of sustainable seafood, and often these options can be hard to find and expensive. However, if someone is choosing these seafood alternatives because they think they are healthier than traditional seafood or generally nutritious overall, they may want to reconsider that thought process.

As it stands, these fake fish products should be seen as a way to shake up your usual eating routine, rather than a daily staple in your diet.

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