Plant-Powered food: Do popular meat substitutes really benefit you?

Plant-based brownie, hemp bar recipes below

The growing number of people in the U.S. who consider themselves vegan is one of the reasons why restaurants are introducing meatless options. While these foods might taste good, you should read the labels to make sure they're healthy.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s a small but growing number of people in the US who consider themselves vegan. It’s 6% of the population -- but keep in mind -- that’s a 500% increase compared to 2014. The food industry also sees the trends and that’s why you’re seeing so many restaurants introducing meatless options.

For example, Burger King’s Impossible Whopper debuted in 2019, Dunkin has its beyond sausage Breakfast Sandwich, even the Colonel at KFC last month launched meatless fried chicken.

People apparently like the options and even doctors say they like the idea that there are more meatless options but sometimes whether those options are a healthier choice is questionable.

Dr. Rene Pulido at Emed Primary Care is concerned with what many of us are consuming.

“Most people in the United States right now they’re eating things they should not be eating that are not plant-based. They’re not meat-based. They’re just chemical-based,” says Pulido.

Pulido lays it out to News4Jax just like he does for his patients.

“Telling them the facts, hey, you already have hypertension, your blood sugar’s already out of whack, you have a very low life expectancy right now, the end is going to look like this. I kind of have to tell them the truth,” says Pulido.

The truth could be scary. Pulido says you are what you eat, and boy has food changed over the years.

“Our great, great grandparents did not have McDonald’s, or Burger King or Pizza Hut or 50 different types of sodas or these types of things. Going back to plant base is kind of like hitting the reset button,” says Pulido.

Dr. Pulido wanted his patients to be able to practice what he preached. Therefore, in the same building as his Emed office, there is now Jax Vegan Cafe.

“I put an ad in the paper, and I basically said, I will give free space to anyone who could come give us some healthy food. And that’s where I met Matt,” says Pulido.

“What we do here instead is trying instead of imitating meat, we enhance the flavor of what we’re using,” says Chef Matt Bardroff.

What he’s using is all plant-based. No meat, no dairy, no eggs, just grains, nuts, fruit, and veggies. The menu changes based on what’s fresh and in season.

“What we’ve also done is taken a lot of your traditional meals, and the use of the vegetables, for example, our plantain jerk is you take all the ideas of island flavor, which is associated with jerk. Instead of using something like chicken, we use the plantains as the meat,” says Bardroff.

Dr. Pulido suggests taking some cues from Chef Matt. Skip the processed meat substitutes, start exploring and seasoning vegetables in different ways.

It’s not all or nothing -- but if you want to improve your health, you’ve got to change the way you eat.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. Start it, have fun with it, don’t see it as a burden. See it as almost as a challenge. Try a new recipe every day. Some you’re going to love some you’re not going to like. Stick with the ones that you love, and just keep moving forward,” says Pulido.

Eric Mack is living proof that eating healthy can be life-changing. He used to be 350 pounds but one day he said enough is enough. Mack started small but then gave up meat altogether and he’s thriving.

“My last piece of chicken was at Boston Market in Orlando, Florida. And I haven’t turned back since,” says Mack. Mack takes it one step at a time, but his first step was a big one and he had a good reason for it.

“I got tired of pain, inflammation, all of that. So, when I started on this journey, man, it was like a no-brainer for me,” says Mack.

He not only upgraded his eating with more whole food he cut out meat altogether.

“I train my mind first, and say, this is what I’m going to do. And it’s not a diet. See, that’s the thing people say, I tell people, it’s a lifestyle change,” says Mack. That was 10 years ago and now more than 120 pounds later he feels amazing. “Oh, man. 100% amazing. As I say, I’m 49 I still play basketball. I still ride my bike. I still swim,” says Mack.

He’s a regular at Jax Vegan Cafe and he has this advice for anyone who wants to be plant-powered.

“Don’t cook first. Go try it at restaurants. Because you know you cook it and you don’t like it, that might discourage you,” says Mack.

Brownies recipe:

3 cups of black beans (canned are easiest, rinse very well)

1 1/2 cups oats

1 tsp baking powder

4 Tbsp baking powder

½ tsp salt (optional)

½ cup of coconut oil or ¾ cup apple sauce

⅓ cup maple syrup or agave

4 tsp stevia

4 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup of chocolate chips

Mix all wet ingredients in a food processor. Add dry ingredients and mix. Place in greased 8x12 pyrex or tin tray.Bake for 17 min @350 degrees.

(Optional adds: walnuts, almonds, pecans, seeds, flax, chia etc.)

Chef Matt Bardroff

No-Bake Hemp bar recipe:

1 ½ cup almonds

1 ½ cup hemp seed

½ cup almond butter

¼ cup coconut oil (or double nut butter)

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp salt

½ cup cocoa nibs

Add almonds to the food processor. Move to bowl and mix all ingredients. Pour into an 8x8 container. Press with parchment paper and let rest in the refrigerator.

Chef Matt Bardroff

About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.