Plant based alternatives to meat products are popular with those who are staying away from meat. And whist I agree with the environmental and ethical reasons for a meat free diet, I think they are misleading us into thinking they are healthy foods.
Most vegan plant based, alternative meat products are classed as 'Ultra Processed Foods'. This means that they have undergone lengthy processing and contain a long list of ingredients including additives and preservatives. Ultra Processed Foods (UPF) have been linked in recent studies to increased risk of depression (a recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found a link between higher consumption of UPF and depression).
There are many reasons for this link with UPF and poor brain health / low mood: Our brains needs adequate healthy fats, in particular Omega 3 fats in order to function well.
Low levels of particular nutrients such as B12, folate, magnesium and zinc have all been linked with low mood and depression and it is difficult to get these nutrients for plant based processed foods. e.g the food may say that it contains B12 when really the amount is very small and in a processed form, whereas consuming a piece of fish would give you much higher levels and in a more natural and utilisable form.
These products are often made of processed soy, soy itself can reduce the absorption of certain nutrients including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Soy is cultivated using high levels of chemicals in the growing and manufacturing of the bean. The soybean itself is toxin unless fermented to form miso, natto or tempeh (as is done in traditional Asian cultures).
These products have a whole list of ingredients and include flavourings, dextrose, emulsifiers, preservatives, modified oils. None of these ingredients are great for our gut or gut bacteria and we know how important these aspects are when thinking about brain health and mood.
Whilst these products can sometimes be used to fall back on in an emergency, Vegans and vegetarians need to take care to incorporate the right nutrients, proteins and fats into their diet from simple whole foods in order to protect brain health and support balanced mood.
A lentil dhal can be prepared quickly and last a few days, a chickpea, spinach and mushroom curry with turmeric is delicious and anti-inflammatory, a Mexican bean and avocado salad can be prepared in minutes.