Plant-based eating: The lowdown

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - It's the latest craze in the food industry: plant-based diets.

Fast Food chains nationwide now have meat alternatives for their fan favorites, like chicken nuggets or burgers.

So, 16 News Now is separating fact from fiction to learn more about plant-based diets and if those alternative products really are healthier for you.

First, what is a plant-based diet?

"It’s really a spectrum of meal plans that focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, rather than animal-based products," said Dr. Rob Riley from the South Bend Clinic. "... The potential benefits of going towards more plant-based diets is that meats tend to be high in fat and calories. People that have diets that have a lot of meats tend to be more overweight than those with plant-based diets."

He warns there are also a few downsides.

"The potential risks is that meat is actually a good nutritional source," Riley said. "It’s a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins that are hard to find, especially in plant-based diets. Particularly vitamin B-12. People on restrictive diets have to make sure they’re getting those vitamins through supplements."

That’s not the only thing to keep an eye on. Just because a meal is plant-based doesn't mean it's better for you.

"I wouldn’t say they’re healthier. Always look at the ingredients," said Mayelin Lora-Williams, a nutritionist with St. Joseph Health System. "... Some of those meats will be highly processed. They have to add flavor, right? Meat already has the flavor of the fat. When you have the plant-based but want it to taste like meat, it has to be processed."

Flavor is the biggest factor for most people considering a plant-based meat alternative.

So, 16 News Now decided to put together its own taste test with some familiar faces to see if the anchors really could tell the difference.

To see how they did, watch the video above.

There are many resources out there if you're interested in learning more about plant-based diets. Harvard University recently published an article on plant-based diets, as did U.S. News.