KFC rolled out vegan 'chicken' in the US, and it proved to be a hit – but how healthy is it?

The famous fast food franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken has been rolling out a plant-based version of its fried chicken to see if customers will approve – and according to sales, it seems that they do.

News reports announced that KFC was the first franchise to sell the #BeyondFriedChicken, made by the company Beyond Meat, in one single outlet in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, to test the waters before offering it nationally and internationally.

According to the New York Times, the plant-based chicken option proved so popular in a test run that the Atlanta branch sold out in about five hours on Tuesday, August 27.

A representative of the company stated that the restaurant sold as many plant-based boneless wings and nuggets as it would sell of its popcorn chicken in an entire week.

So, how long before the rest of the world can join in? A national roll-out in the US is not quite imminent, as the results of the test run and customer feedback still has to be evaluated – so global availability is uncertain.

But is it healthy?

Burger King was the first big fast food franchise to introduce a plant-based option – their Impossible Whopper – made by the company Impossible Foods.  

In the past, many large-scale studies have been done to determine whether plant-eaters or meat-eaters have longer lives, and the results have been pretty conclusive – one study with more than 73 000 subjects found that a vegetarian diet can be linked to lower risk of premature death.

A recent study has also found that those who eat vegetarian and vegan diets have a lower incidence of all cancers, while meat consumption is linked to an increased cancer risk.

But does this count if you simply swap your normal fare of fast food for a plant-based alternative? Not quite, experts reckon.

“These meat alternatives are processed foods, and like other processed foods, are not as healthy as eating fresh vegetables," said Mahmoud Ghannoum, author of Total Gut balance.

“Salt and fat are a particular concern because many manufacturers add these ingredients for the sake of flavour. The addition of oils, for flavour and moisture, makes many of these not ideal for someone with diabetes or heart disease, said Dr Dana Simpler from the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, USA.

Another concern is the high amount of sodium that these plant-based items contain – plant-based patties have higher levels of sodium than beef patties. Nutritionists also point out that the meatless chicken is still fried, and still processed, and thus can't be considered a fantastic source of protein.

However, we should bear in mind some of the benefits of these processed plant products: They don’t contain the same amount of saturated fat as in especially red meat, and usually have a higher fibre content than their meat counterparts.

So while the nutritious value of these products has been debated by experts, they can certainly help you switch to plant-based foods, especially if you're doing it for environmental reasons.

Eat less meat without going completely vegan

Our dietitians at Nutritional Solutions agree that making a switch to more plant-based products and eating less red meat could benefit your health. According to them, it's not necessary to completely cut out all meat immediately, but to reduce your meat consumption to twice a week and experience with other sources of protein, such as lentils, chickpeas, eggs and fish.

Stuck for ideas? This article will help. 

Image credit: iStock

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