Over the last decade, there has been an explosion in the number of plant based nd vegan meat products. That's fantastic, because anytime you can get people to eat plant based products instead of animal based ones that is a good thing. Several years ago, I was listening to a plant based doctor in an interview and he mentioned the ingredients that were in these plant based meat products. He said something like "they will destroy your gut." Huh? He didn't elaborate, but it sent me down a rabbit hole to find out why they would destroy your intestines if you eat them more than once in a while.
I was someone who bought these products on a regular basis. I didn't eat them daily, but I'd always have some in my freezer and have no problem eating them a couple of times per week. But I also have Crohn's Disease (which started after giving birth to my son, via C-section). I went on a mission to find out more about the ingredients in the plant based and vegan meat products. I wanted to know what was in them that was so bad that it would destroy the intestines. What I found was not only shocking, but also upsetting. I'm upset that our government allows such harmful ingredients to be in our food supply, and upset companies would even use ingredients that have been shown through plenty of research studies to cause intestinal inflammation or to harm the gut microbiome (which is crucial to overall health).
Over the last couple of years, I've spent countless outs in PubMed, reading the research on ingredients, especially things like emulsifiers, to see which ones are wreaking havoc on our bodies. I want to reduce my contribution of cruelty toward animals, but that doesn't mean I want to harm my health by opting for plant based foods that seem healthier, yet contain ingredients that are not good. Sadly, I've found that most vegetarians and vegans don't care about what the ingredients are, as long as the product is vegetarian or vegan (whichever they are shooting for). Well, they will care once the damage has been done to their health. When you harm the gut microbiome it can lead to things like metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Unfortunately, things like this are on the rise due to the ingredients being used.
The bottom line is that people should be aware of the ingredients, so they can make informed food choices. Plus, companies should do better and replace the toxic and harmful ingredients with ones that won't damage our guts. The only way they will do that is when more people become aware of the issue and demand they do better. As long as the public remains ignorant to these harmful ingredients in plant based foods and vegan meats, then nothing will change. We can and should do better. Help the animals, but let's not damage our own bodies in the process!
Here are some ingredients to be aware of when reading labels on plant based meats and vegan meats (backed up by the published research):
- According to research published in a 2021 issue of the journal Microbiome, there are numerous emulsifiers that will damage the gut microbiome. They report that some have a detrimental impact that is non-reversible. Some of the worst offenders include carrageenan, xanthum gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, polysorbate 80, maltodextrin, gum arabic, carboxymethellcellulose, and propylene glycol alganate. These ingredients not only negatively alter the microbiota, but some are reported to also induce intestinal inflammation. When it comes to the widely used lecithins, they found that soy lecithins and mono and dyglicerides had little impact on the microbiota, but sunflower lecithin was pro-inflammatory.
- In the March 2022 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, researchers report that emulsifiers have the potential to harm the intestine, by promoting intestinal inflammation. In the January 2022 issue of the journal Microorganisms, researchers report that "Some artificial emulsifiers and sweeteners can induce the dysbiosis associated with an alteration of the intestinal barrier, an activation of chronic inflammation, and abnormal immune response accelerating the onset of IBD."
- In the October 2021 issue of the journal Nutrients, researchers report that "Commonly used synthetic dietary emulsifiers, including carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate-80 (P80), promote intestinal inflammation. Commonly used dietary emulsifiers have different abilities to induce colitis in humanized mice. CMC promotes more aggressive inflammation without changing bacterial composition."
- In the September 2021 issue of the journal Nutrients, researchers report that "Carrageenan can activate the innate immune pathways of inflammation, alter the gut microbiota composition and the thickness of the mucus barrier."
- In the March 2021 issue of the journal mSystems, researchers shared that the maternal intake of polysorbate 80 can cause gut dysbiosis in offspring, leading to colitis in adulthood.
- In the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers report that "Polysorbate-80 enhances the vulnerability of the small intestine to indomethacin-induced injury by inducing ileal dysbiosis."
- In the March 2022 issue of the journal Gastroenterology, researchers report that "Carboxymethylcellulose in processed foods may be contributing to increased prevalence of an array of chronic inflammatory diseases by altering the gut microbiome and metabolome."
- In the March issue of the European Journal of Nutrition, they report that maltodextrin "induces effects on human physiology/gut microbiota."
After researching ingredients, here are the top ones I tend to avoid (which I often find in plant based meats and vegan meats). From what I have read, they seem to have the most potential for negatively impacting human health:
- Xanthum gum
- Polysorbate 80
I also tend to avoid methylcellulose. Why? Because it's a laxative! Why are they putting a laxative in so many plant based meat products?! I find it in many of them, which is mind blowing to me.
These is not an all-inclusive list, of course. There are numerous other products that are harmful to human health, including red 40, yellow 6, titanium dioxide, guar gum, locust bean gum, gum arabic, TBHQ, etc. But the ones I listed are often found in plant based meats and vegan meat products. It's all about being informed and making decisions based on the information. If you want to include these in your diet that's your choice, but at least you go into it knowing what the risks are. Please keep in mind that these harmful ingredients are not only found in plant based products and vegan meat products. They are found in non-vegetarian and non-vegan products, too.
When I dine out I don't always know what the ingredients are in the food I'm ordering. I try not to worry about it, since I eat most of my meals at home. My goal is to limit these products entering my body, and if I avoid purchasing products at the grocery store that have then I feel I'm doing pretty good.
There are some good plant based meat products that don't contain these potentially harmful ingredients. You just have to seek them out! It takes a little more work, but your gut will be happier and healthier for the long run. While it's best to stick to whole foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, quinoa, etc., it's nice to once in a while be able to eat plant based or vegan meat products. It took me a few years to figure out how and why plant based meats will destroy the gut, but I've figured it out and taking measures to protect my gut, and that of my family.