According to the authors of a new study, plant-based dietary substitutes for animal products are healthier for both the environment and people than the animal products they are meant to replace.
According to a recent paper published in Future Foods, these foods are a much more effective way of reducing demand for meat and dairy than simply advising individuals to make vegetarian whole foods because they are “specifically formulated to replicate the taste, texture, and overall eating experience of animal products.”
According to the research, which was conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath, plant-based meat and dairy substitutes “offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution which takes into account consumer preferences and behavior.”
43 studies on the effects of plant-based foods on human health, the environment, and consumer attitudes were analyzed. In one study, it was discovered that almost 90% of consumers who consumed plant-based meat and dairy were actually meat eaters or flexitarians. In another, it was discovered that plant-based foods that were comparable to processed meat in terms of taste, texture, and cost had the best chance of replacing it.
The study also discovered that compared to the animal products they were replacing, these plant-based goods produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions. According to one study, pea protein could cut CO2 emissions by up to eight million tons annually if it were to replace 5% of the beef consumed in Germany. Another study discovered that plant-based burgers were associated with up to 98% less greenhouse gas emissions than beef burgers.
The report authors suggest that plant-based products generally require much less agricultural land, need less water, and cause less pollution than animal products.
Studies focusing on the healthiness of plant-based products also found they tend to have better nutritional profiles compared to animal products, with one paper finding that 40% of conventional meat products were classified as ‘less healthy’ compared to just 14% of plant-based alternatives based on the UK’s Nutrient Profiling Model.
Others found plant-based meat and dairy were good for weight loss and building muscle mass, and could be used to help people with specific health conditions. Food producers may be able to add ingredients such as edible fungi, microalgae or spirulina to plant-based foods, boosting properties such as amino acids, vitamins B and E, and antioxidants. Future innovations in processing and ingredients are likely to lead to further nutritional improvements.
Report author, Dr. Chris Bryant from the University of Bath, said: “Increasingly we’re seeing how plant-based products are able to shift demand away from animal products by appealing to three essential elements consumers want: taste, price, and convenience. This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence that as well as being far more sustainable compared to animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land use, plant-based animal product alternatives also have a wide range of health benefits.”
He continues, “Despite the incredible advances that plant-based producers have made over recent years, there is still huge potential to improve their taste, texture, and how they cook. There’s also enormous potential to innovate with ingredients and processes to improve their nutritional properties – for example by boosting vitamin content.”
The authors stress that whilst there are health benefits of these products compared to meat, multiple personal factors will impact health including overall calorie consumption and exercise/activity levels.
Dr. Bryant suggests that more research will now be needed to make these improvements a reality, ensuring manufacturers can make products that taste better, are healthier, and provide consumers with sustainable options that are more likely to reduce demand for meat.
Reference: “Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products” by Christopher J. Bryant, 27 July 2022, Future Foods.
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