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Earlier this month, scientists from the University of Oxford said governments should consider putting a ‘meat tax’ on some meats, because they carry some health risks.
They claimed the move might save 6,000 deaths a year in the UK, and more than £700m in UK healthcare costs.
They suggested a 14 percent tax on red meat and a 79 percent tax on processed meats like sausages and bacon – the numbers reflecting the health risks associated with consuming these products.
Smoked plant proteins
But what does that mean for smoked or cured plant proteins?
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (an independent agency of the World Health Organisation), reported that processed meat was carcinogenic to humans – meaning that it’s cancerous.
In fact, the WHO found that eating 50g of processed meat a day (meat that’s been salted, cured, fermented or smoked) can increase your risk of bowel cancer by 18 percent. And that goes up according to how much of it you eat.
More and more young people are getting bowel cancer these days, with diagnoses increasing every year by six percent in 20-39 year olds between 2008 and 2016.
“We are aware of investigations in the North American population that demonstrates that colorectal cancer is increasing in young adults,” Dr. Fanny Vuik explained, presenting the research for the first time at UEG Week Vienna 2018.
“In Europe, however, information until now has been limited and it’s worrying to see the startling rates at which colorectal cancer is increasing in the young.”
Experts largely put that down to diet, citing nitrates – food additives used to improve the look and taste of things like bacon, and sometimes to protect against dangerous microbes – as a concern.
They’ve also been linked to cancer.
The BBC reports that there are a multitude of factors behind why processed meats might be cancer-inducing, including its quality, how it’s cooked, the fat content and the processing and recommends people cut their consumption as far as possible – replacing bacon with tofu or tempeh rashers.
But what if you’re eating smoked tofu and tempeh?
Plant Based News asked Ian Marber, Nutrition Consultant and Founder of The Food Doctor whether smoked plant proteins were as bad for you as smoked animal ones.
“Actually, I think not, although I don’t know,” he told PBN.
“The meats are processed with nitrates to stop spoilage, but smoked tofu is effectively only flavored.”
Looking at ingredients listings suggests he’s right: Tofoo Smoked Tofu contains water, soybeans, nigari, and sea salt, while Taifun Organish Smoked Tofu is flavored with soy sauce and beechwood smoke.
Tofurky Vegan Italian Style Sausages contain more ingredients, but most are easily-recognizable foods like soybeans, wheat gluten rapeseed oil, soy flour, sun-dried tomatoes, seasoning and then two additives: magnesium and calcium chloride.
Calcium chloride is used to make food taste salty without actually adding salt, and it also helps to make foods firmer. The US Food and Drug Administration says extensive studies into the chemical have found that eating it poses no health risk. The only people for whom it can be dangerous are plant workers who ingest it in its pure form.
A pack of Waitrose smoked bacon, on the other hand, contains pork belly, salt, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate and sodium ascorbate. So it isn’t so much the smoke that’s the problem, but the additives used to enhance that smokiness – which were not included as ingredients in the above plant proteins.
And of course, with smoked meats, you get the double whammy of it being usually a red meat which has then been given the nitrate treatment – meaning that you’re raising your levels of bad cholesterol, salt and cancerous materials.
Tofu and tempeh have both been found to lower levels of bad cholesterol and, because of its estrogen content, some claim tofu can potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.