Research suggests plant-based meat is healthier and more sustainable

Plant-based dietary alternatives to animal products are healthier for the environment and for humans than the animal products they replace, according to the authors of a new study. According to a recent paper published in Future Foods, these foods are a more effective way of reducing the need for meat and dairy products than simply recommending that individuals cook full vegetarian meals because they are “specially used to replicate the taste, texture and overall eating experience of animal products”.

Vegetable meat burger

According to research by psychologists at the University of Bath, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives “offer a healthier and more environmentally friendly solution that takes into account consumer preferences and behaviour”.

Forty-three studies on the impact of plant-based foods on human health, the environment, and consumer attitudes were analyzed. In one study, it was found that almost 90% of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy were actually meat eaters or leaned towards flexible choices. In another study, it was found that plant-based foods that were comparable to processed meat in taste, texture, and cost were most likely to replace processed meat.

The study also found that these plant-based commodities produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the animal products they replace. According to a study, if pea protein replaced 5% of the beef consumed in Germany, up to 8 million tons of CO2 emissions could be avoided every year. Another study found that plant-based burgers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 98% compared to beef burgers.

According to the report authors, plant-based products generally require far less agricultural land, require less water and cause less pollution than animal products.

Research focused on the health of plant-based products has also found that they tend to have a better nutritional profile compared to animal-based products, with one paper finding that 40% of conventional meat products were classified as “less healthy,” And according to the UK’s Nutrient Composition Analysis Model, only 14% of plant-based alternatives were classified as “less healthy”.

Other studies have found that plant-based meat and dairy are beneficial for weight loss and muscle mass, and may be used to help people with specific health conditions. Food manufacturers may add ingredients such as edible fungi, microalgae or spirulina to plant foods to enhance properties such as amino acids, vitamins B and E and antioxidants. Future innovations in processing and ingredients may lead to further improvements in nutritional content.

Report author Dr Chris Bryant of the University of Bath said:

“Increasingly, we are seeing that plant-based products can shift demand away from animal products by appealing to the three basic elements consumers want: taste, price and convenience. This review shows ample evidence , in addition to being more sustainable than animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land use, plant-based alternatives to animal products have wide-ranging health benefits. Despite impressive gains by plant-based product producers in recent years Incredible progress, but there is still huge potential to improve its taste, texture and the way it is cooked. There is also huge potential to innovate ingredients and processes to improve its nutritional profile – for example by boosting its vitamin content”.

The authors emphasize that while there are health benefits of these products compared to meat, multiple individual factors will affect health, including overall calorie consumption and exercise/activity level.

Dr Bryant suggested that more research is now needed to make these improvements a reality, ensuring that manufacturers can make products that taste better, are healthier, and provide consumers with sustainable food that is more likely to reduce their need for meat.