New research finds plant-based meat is healthier and more sustainable than animal meat

Plant-based meat is better for the environment and has favorable nutritional profiles compared to the animal meat it’s designed to replace, according to a new study published in a scientific journal future foods.

The review involved examining 43 studies related to the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods, as well as the literature on consumer attitudes. It concluded that plant-based meat and dairy products, while sometimes incorrectly viewed by consumers as “unnatural” or “over-processed,” offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution to animal meat that also takes into account the consumer food preferences. Because meat and other plant-based foods are specifically formulated to replicate the taste, texture, and overall eating experience of animal products, they are a much more effective way to reduce demand for meat and dairy of animal origin than simply encouraging people to cook whole plant foods at home.

“Although most consumers correctly see [plant-based meat] as more nutritionally sound alternatives, their perception as unnatural or overly processed may lead some to incorrectly infer that they are unhealthy and/or harmful in other ways,” the study noted. “This perception may be exacerbated by interests in the conventional animal products industry seeking to cast public doubt on these competing products. Consumers and policymakers should resist the heuristic that animal meat is natural and therefore better, and instead listen to the science, which suggests that [plant-based meat] it can be a sustainable and healthy part of our future protein landscape.”

One study that was part of the review suggested that nearly 90% of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy were carnivores, while another study found that plant-based products with similar taste, texture and price to processed animal meat had the best chance of replacing meat. Ultimately, the report notes that plant-based meat is intended to displace demand for animal products, not other plant foods, and is better able to do this compared to whole plant foods alone.

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Health benefits of plant-based meat

Studies focusing on the healthiness of plant-based products found that they tend to have better nutritional profiles compared to animal-based products, with one article finding that 40% of conventional meat products were classified as “less healthy” according to the UK Nutrient Profiles Model, compared to just 14 percent for plant-based alternatives. Others found that plant-based meat and dairy products were good for weight loss and muscle building, and could be used to help people with specific health conditions.

Additionally, one article found that daily consumption of plant-based meat was associated with a 49% lower risk of hip fracture. Two separate studies found that, compared to chicken meals, meat made from mycoprotein, a form of single-cell protein derived from mushrooms, led to a significant reduction in insulin responses, which could reduce insulin release in people with overweight.

The report notes that, in many cases, processing plant-based ingredients can improve nutrition, and an article highlights how turning legumes into plant-based meat can improve people’s ability to digest them. Other articles showed that plant-based foods had cholesterol-lowering benefits and helped improve gut health.

In particular, food producers can add ingredients such as edible mushrooms, microalgae or spirulina to plant-based foods, enhancing 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.

“These products can shift demand away from animal products, and they can do so much more effectively than whole plant foods, as they hit the key drivers consumers are looking for: taste, price and convenience,” said the author of the study. report, Chris Bryant. , PhD, from the University of Bath, said in a statement.

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Plant-based meat is more sustainable

When it comes to the environmental benefits of plant-based meat, the paper also found that plant-based products produced lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the animal products they were replacing. One paper found that replacing 5 percent of German beef consumption with pea protein would reduce CO2 emissions by eight million metric tons per year. Another found that plant-based burgers were associated with up to 98 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to meat burgers.

The report’s author also found that plant-based products required much less agricultural land, used less water, caused less pollution, and required similar or less energy than animal products.

“I have found overwhelming evidence that, in addition to being much 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,” Bryant said. .

The report notes that further innovation in processing and formulations has the potential to further improve the nutritional profile of plant-based meat products, while also improving taste, texture and price. But additional research funding is imperative to make these potential improvements a reality. “More research funding 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 options that are more likely to reduce demand for meat,” Bryant said. .

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