Veganism has exploded in the last few years, with millions of people looking to cut out animal products for both ethical and health reasons.
The plant-based diet involves extracting red meats and dairy, which evidence has shown can lower blood pressure and risk of obesity.
But health experts have found that more and more people are introducing meat back into their meals to help with lackluster energy and weight gain.
The benefits of meatless alternatives from companies such as Quorn, Boca and MorningStar Farms are a topic of debate because of their substitute ingredients, which include processed soy, MSG and mold.
Dietitian Maria Bella told Daily Mail Online that she quit veganism after two years because she felt unhealthy from the fake meat products she was eating.
She and Nikki Ostrower, nutritional expert with NAO Wellness, have seen a surge of clients veering away from veganism in the last few years citing negative side effects like fatigue and bloating.
Quorn agreed this year to change its labels to inform consumers that the main ingredient is mold. This is after approximately 2,500 claims came forward saying the product had adverse effects to people such as nausea and allergic reactions
Some substitute meat for meatless options like veggie burgers when going vegan. But while these provide the necessary amount of protein, some veggie burgers, such as the ones from MorningStar Farms and Boca, have hidden MSG and processed soy
When Maria Bella, registered nutritionist and founder of Top Balance Nutrition in NYC, first went vegan she even went as far as to rid her closet of all leather products.
But one day, she realized that her diet was not providing her body the the healthy foods she needed.
‘I felt horrible and was eating so many fake meat products that one day I sat back and realized just how horrible my diet was,’ Bella said. ‘If someone decides to go vegan, it is essential to rely on real food and that is incredibly hard.’
Vegan diets involve completely cutting out all animal products including meat, eggs, cheese and milk.
This diet, when done correctly, has proven benefits because it lowers the amount of saturated fats, cholesterol and sugar amounts consumed by the body.
Not only will this shorten the waistline, but also decrease the risk of cardiovascular and kidney problems.
Using meat replacement options such as Quorn, MorningStar Farms and Boca to fill a protein void in the diet can help give the body get its daily allotment.
But these products might have ingredients such as processed soy, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and mold in them, which can hinder the health instead of providing a nutritious substitute.
Quorn, a meat-substitute product created in the UK, agreed this year to change its labels after many reports came forward that people were having allergic reactions.
These reactions came from the main ingredient in the product, mold, which was not clearly marked on the packaging.
The company allegedly received 2,500 claims of people having adverse reactions including nausea, violent vomiting, diarrhea, and even life-threatening anaphylatic responses.
Dietitian Maria Bella (left) and nutritional expert Nikki Ostrower (right) have worked with clients who moved away from veganism because they felt they weren’t eating as healthy as they should. Vegan diets, when done right, can help decrease the risk for obesity and high blood pressure. But some products on the market aren’t a healthy alternative for meat
MorningStar and Boca also provide meat substitutes but some of their products, including the popular veggie burger, contain hidden MSG in the ingredients list.
MSG is a flavor enhancer added to Chinese food and processed meats, but one serving accounts for 10 percent of our body’s daily salt intake, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
Too much salt in the diet can cause high blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular problems and weight gain.
If the body doesn’t get its share of protein and other nutrients from other sources, then it can slowly feel the strain of the diet.
Ostrower has experienced a number of her clients moving away from veganism in favor of eating more food groups.
‘Some had a lack of energy or started to have a lot of sugar cravings,’ Ostrower said. ‘Some were experiencing migraines.’
Personally, I try to eat more produce and avoid processed and packaged foods of any kind. I no longer avoid any food groups, but focus on variety of protein sources and tons of colorful produce on my plate
Maria Bella, registered dietitian and former vegan
She said this can be a sign from the body that it isn’t experiencing the nutrients it needs to keep going.
Processed carbohydrates and soy products in meatless products can not only cause adverse reactions but diminish important nutrients in the body.
‘They can deplete your body of micro minerals and nutrients,’ Ostrower said.
This depletion of nutrients includes magnesium and amino acids.
‘Amino acids are the building blocks for protein,’ Ostrower said.
Lean meats, fish, eggs and dairy are rich with amino acids, so people who go vegan often turn to meatless products instead of produce to get that fill of protein.
But experts warn that not all products on the market can provide that healthy alternative that people need.
Bella has also helped others besides herself decide on if the vegan diet is best for them.
‘When patients come to me insisting on following it, I assess the reason behind it first,’ Bella said. ‘Many girls with eating disorders fall into that pattern because the diet restricts many foods. ‘
But Bella has found that limiting the diet from certain food groups wasn’t the best option for her.
‘Personally, I try to eat more produce and avoid processed and packaged foods of any kind,’ Bella said.
‘I no longer avoid any food groups, but focus on variety of protein sources and tons of colorful produce on my plate.’