Vegetarian meat definedIndia has long been touted as the vegetarian capital of the world. According to various government surveys, 23 to 37 per cent of Indians are estimated to be vegetarian. There's also an increase in the number of people becoming sensitive to issues like animal rights and sustainability. With more and more people choosing to become vegetarian/vegan, vegetarian meat is now increasingly becoming a norm and features as a part of many dishes and traditional foods around the world. .Restaurants and supermarkets in India are also catering to this demand by offering more vegan options. Vegetarian meat is made from plant foodsources making it an ideal choice for vegetarians/vegans. These vegetarian meat substitutes are particularly designed and created to have the same look, taste, texture, flavour and nutrients as actual meat and also have comparable protein content. It is thus a great option for those vegetarians/vegans who can't let go of their non-vegetarian food cravings. Vegetarian meat can be consumed by children as well as older adults as a part of a healthy and balanced diet.It is made using plant-based ingredients such as soybeans, different legumes, peas, gluten, lentils, tofu (cottage cheese made of soy milk), yuba (dried tofu skin), tempeh (made of fermented soybeans), potato and jackfruit and rice protein. Examples of vegetarian meat are seitan (wheat gluten), falafel (patty made of ground chickpeas), tofurkey (a turkey substitute made of tofu or seitan stuffed with bread), plant-based meat burger patty, sausages (a textured vegetable protein made of plant products), nuggets, cutlets and mock duck (gluten-based substitute).Vegetarian meat is created using various technologies. The most popular technology used is shear cell technology and the conventional protein extraction method.Another way of preparing lab-grown meat is extracting a cell from the animal source and further culturing it in lab. Although this kind of meat is not vegan, it is also not sourced by slaughtering animals and thus, takes away the guilt. This is a relatively new concept and is yet to be explored fully.Ingredients such as soy, pea, moong bean, potato, rice, wheat gluten protein are combined with other ingredients to give the perfect chewy texture, taste and juiciness to the vegetarian meat. Yeast extract contributes to that savoury flavour of meat, making it a suitable ingredient for vegetarian meat. Ingredients like onion, garlic, salt and pepper are used to strengthen the flavour. Beet extract is often added to give the perfect colour to the meat while sugar helps in giving the dark tint to the meat. Oils are added to provide the fat source to the meat substitutes.The need for vegetarian meatMeat is a good source of energy and has a range of essential nutrients, such as protein and essential micronutrients like heme iron, zinc, and vitamin 812. With a large number of people being vegetarian in countries like India and more and more people choosing vegetarianism and veganism as a way oflife, deficiency of these nutrients may occur if meals are not planned well or if there is limited access to alternative nutrient-dense vegetarian/vegan foods, especially in low-income countries.As the world population increases, concerns over global food shortage and famine are increasing the demand for new protein-rich foods that are nutritious, economical, sustainable and safe for human consumption. As the plant-based meat industry grows, it could help the world avoid long-term food insecurity. According to UN data, 815 million people are undernourished globally and an additional 2 billion people are expected to join these ranks by 2050. As climate change diminishes agricultural output around the world, the UN encourages countries to make their food production systems more sustainable, by growing more nutritious crops instead of investing in meat production.Meat consumption and healthIn high-income western countries, studies have shown that mortality rates are modestly higher in participants who consume higher intakes of both red and processed meat than in those with low meat intakes. The strongest evidence for the adverse effect of high meat intake onhealth is colorectal cancer. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans because of its association with colorectal cancer. Red meat is also classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, based mainly on the evidence of links to colorectal cancer. High intakes of processed meat may also increase the risk for stomach cancer.IARC estimates that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat. If the reported associations with red meat were proven to be causal then diets high in red meat could be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide.There is evidence to prove that processed meat consumption is also associated with a moderate increase in the risk for mortality from cardiovascular disease.There is some evidence to show that vegetarians have a slightly more favourable cardiovascular risk profile thannon-vegetarians as non-vegetarian foods are higher in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. Some studies have also suggested that a high intake of processed meat is associated with an increased risk for other chronic conditions such as Diabetes and weight gain in adults. In high-income Western countries, a lower meat intake may be a marker of ahealth-conscious lifestyle, but in low-income countries, lower meat intakes are more likely to be markers of poverty and associated with other risk factors for poor health.Environmental impact of foodFood products derived from plants such as wheat or soy has a much smaller climatic impact than conventionally produced meat. This is mainly because humans feed on them directly. In the case of meat production, the same plants are first used as animal feed and plant-based nutrients are lost before they reach our plates. In addition, there is the use of arable land, water and energy. For example, one kilo of soy-based meat substitute causes 2.8 kg of greenhouse gases, but for one kilo of actual meat, this number varies between 4.1 and 30.5 kg of greenhouse gases.Vegetarian meat and healthVegetarian meat is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, thus lowering the risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension, Diabetes, high lipid levels, stroke, heart disease and cancer.The nutrients of concern in the diet of vegetarians include vitamin 812, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc, hence vegetarian meat fortified with these nutrients will help shield against these nutrient deficiencies. Most vegetarian meats available are lower in carbohydrate, sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol making it a Diabetes-friendly food. Being high in protein, it providesbetter satiety; helps reduce insulin resistance thereby helping improve blood glucose control.A meat substitute is a food that may have a taste, texture, or appearance similar to meat but does not contain meat. In the case of meat substitutes, different types of vegetarian foods are used instead of non-vegetarian food products. Vegetarian meat is a processed food made from soy, pea, rice or wheat products to replicate the taste and texture of actual meat.Examples of meat substitutes that have a similar texture, flavour, or added nutrients are Tofu which is made from soy milk andTempeh, a traditional Indonesian soy-based meat substitute made from the whole soybean using a fermentation process.Vegetarian meat in the Indian dietVegetarian meat can be used instead of chicken or mutton in the recipe. One can make a stir fry, pulao, biryani, curry, kababs, tikka or use a vegetarian meat patty instead of a chicken/meat patty in a burger or roll or also as a pizza topping. For example, soy curls are dried fleshy strips made from soybean. Once rehydrated, they taste very similar to chicken, making them a perfect choice for stir fry.Meeting the nutritional requirementTo get the most out of a vegetarian diet, one must consume a variety of foods such as fresh, whole, seasonal, colourful fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grain cereals, millets and legumes. It is advisable to check your vitamin D and vitamin 812 levels periodically and if low, consult your doctor for supplementation. Look for foods fortified with vitamin D, vitamin 812 , Iron, Calcium and Zinc to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Consult a qualified dietician who will help you plan a balanced diet keeping in mind your nutritional requirements and who will help gain nourishment through food.The way forwardVegetarian meat has been a revolutionary invention for those choosing vegetarianism or veganism as a way of life. For those having cravings for meat, it is a great substitute having a similar taste, texture and aroma as meat. Most of the vegetarian meats available in the market are also high in protein and fortified with essential nutrients to help meet nutritional requirements.A vegetarian diet using vegetarian meat when appropriately planned by a qualified dietician can be nutritionally adequate for adults as well as children. There is sufficient evidence to show that vegetarianism/veganism helps promote health and lowers the risk of major chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure due to higher consumption of fibre, antioxidants, minerals, and polyphenols coming from vegetarian food sources.Ms Sheryl Salis is a Registered Dietician, Certified Diabetes Educator and Certified Insulin Pump Trainer with more than 20 years of experience in the field of Nutrition and Diabetes Education.Ms Salis is the Founder of Nurture Health Solutions and the author of the award winning book "Diet in Diabetes Simplified".