Digital Exclusive: ‘Meatless meat’ craze gains popularity

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DUNMORE, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) The meatless meat craze is nothing new, but with major restaurants like Hardee’s, Denny’s and Burger King all more-than on board — it has people thinking, is it the healthier option?

Diane DellaValle is a research dietitian and nutrition professor for one of the top nutrition programs in the country at Marywood University.

She is impressed with the rapid growth of popularity of the “Impossible” and “Beyond Meat” brands. Both use different mixes of vegetables, beans and isolated ingredients to give a realistic burger texture and taste to vegan products but experts say, that does not mean it should be a staple in every diet.

“This is what we would call a processed food. This is not naturally occurring. This is something that food science has miraculously created,” said DellaValle. “But this really equalizes vegetarians and non-vegetarians in a way that when you go out to eat, you can’t really say one is healthier than the other.”

While the products have no cholesterol and have healthy amounts of proteins — unlike regular meat, they have more than a healthy amount of sodium, which can affect blood pressure.

“If you’re trying to increase plant proteins in your diet this is a great way to do it,” she noted. “If you’re trying to reduce sodium in your diet, I would limit this option to maybe one day a week — just like you would with any other fast food.”

Marda Heuman is a district nutritionist for Wegmans, who sell both items in their growing ‘meatless’ sections.

She noted that whether it’s popularity or dietary curiosity, both products offer more plant-based nutrition to consumers.

“Only 10% of Americans eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” Heuman said. “That means 90% of people are not, so it’s a huge number and we have a huge opportunity to encourage people to eat more whole plants, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains”

Citing that there are a growing number of families with varying dietary needs and trends, heuman says checking nutrition labels should be more common place, but it’s a trend that’s bringing people together.

“I think these meatless burgers are a great bridge food,” said Heuman. “They really help people get more plants on their plate without having to sacrifice too much.”

To get a real gauge on this meatless meat craze, we decided to check in on one business that is making a living with it. Eden – ‘A Vegan Cafe’ has seen a market for vegan comfort food since 2008 and recently opened up a second location in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Owner Christian Pilosi has been using meatless meats like Beyond since they arrived on scene, years back. He also says that chain restaurants having recent releases with similar products hasn’t exactly hurt business.

“You know some people might think that other places having them would hurt us but it actually helps, because it opens that lane up for people,” Pilosi said. “They feel they’ve tried it at Burger King so why not try that vegan place that’s got, like, eight different burgers.”

He sees a range of clientele come through his doors who are looking for vegan comfort food, especially with the meatless meat, for a variety of reasons.

“We have people coming in because of their health, they care about animals and don’t want to eat animals. We have people coming in because they’re worried about sustainability,” he said. “Some people, honestly, just come in because they dig the food. They’re not thinking about anything. They just like the food and it’s a bonus that you get all those other things along with it.”

Whether it’s curiosity, political, environmental or especially health reasons — experts agree this meatless meat isn’t bad for you, but it’s not a pure replacement to anything in your diet — so read the label.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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