© 2021 WYPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Plant-Based Foods

Clear Path.jpg

Now its been a few week since we’ve been able to connect due to the impact of Covid-19. And there have been quite a few challenges and disruptions to our lives especially when it comes to shopping and eating habits.

With numerous meat packing and poultry facilities being forced to shut down, folks are beginning to look at alternatives to the food they serve and consume.


Today we have Christopher Wells, the National Program Manager of nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies, back to discuss the plant based food movement that really seems to be sweeping across the United States. So for the  uninitiated who are not familiar with this trend, could you explain plant based foods?

Chris: Sure. You have seen the products with names like Impossible burger, Beyond Meat, fishless fillets, crabless cakes and so on. Well, these foods are made without ANY meat whatsoever but are essentially plant proteins, binding ingredients, and spices.

Al. Yes I’ve actually sampled the burger Chris and must admit, it was actually quite good! Now tell me….just what are the plant proteins?

Chris. The plant proteins are usually whey protein, wheat protein, soy or pea protein, but the products are often supplemented with ingredients like bamboo fiber or egg whites.

Al. Gotta confess…It’s surprising that these ingredients mixed together can taste even remotely like meat, now just how do they do that????

Chris. Some of the plant based foods like The Impossible Burger add heme, an iron containing molecule found in meat and plants that makes the burger taste like real meat. But companies are also clever to make the product look like real meat by duplicating the look and texture of fan favorites like burgers, tuna, chicken nuggets, meatballs, bacon, or sausage.  Some companies even add ingredients like beet juice to make it bleed like you are accustomed to seeing with real meat. 

Al. Sounds like some of these compnies have become masters of illusion…hmm very clever! But all kidding aside…..just how healthy are these plant-based meats?

Chris: According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association published in August 2019, diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the general population. Plant-based meat is comparable to real meat in terms of calories, but tends to have less cholesterol and more healthy fiber. So besides the health implications, this could also result in healthcare related savings.

Al. Alright…now I’ve got to ask this, because some say reducing red meat consumption is beneficial for the environment –now… have you found any evidence to support that?

Chris. Actually I have… according to Cornell University, producing one calorie of food energy from beef requires 40 calories of fossil fuel energy, but producing one calorie of edible grain takes only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy. Further, the research shows the meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than the plant-based diets and that, clearly, plant based diets are more sustainable.

Al. Okay, but what would you say to those (“like I used to be”) who are skeptical and not ready to change their diet?

Chris. Look, I love a great bacon cheeseburger as much as the next guy, but I think if we can unlock significant health AND environmental benefits by occasionally switching to a similar tasting plant-based product, then it’s worth giving it a try.

Al: Well….no pun intended: that’s certainly some food for thought….I’m actually getting hungry just thinking about this….ha!

And thanks again to you Chris for joining us.

Further information may be found at www.TransamericaInstitute.Org.

This has been another delicious episode of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health and Wealth.

Until the next time, this is Al Waller on WYPR, your NPR News Sation.

 Stay Safe and Thanks for listening. 

Al Waller is a long time native of the Baltimore area. He entered the field of Human Resources Management starting as an HR Generalist with PwC (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers). This marked the beginning of a 30 year career that advanced into the management level for locally and globally based corporations. His primary area of expertise has focused on but not limited to: Talent Acquisition /Retention, Employee Relations as well as Training & Development.
Christopher Wells serves as the national program manager for Transamerica Center for Health Studies (TCHS). He has an extensive background in healthcare research and global health programs, as well as health policy and innovation. He uses that experience to lead TCHS’ research, which aims to empower Americans to optimize their health coverage and outcomes. Chris has published studies on infectious disease, childhood obesity, and mental health. He also has initiated successful public health projects focused on HIV/AIDS prevention, access to safe water, vector control, and workplace wellness.