New study highlights alt-meat advantages

August 2, 2022

Plant-based dietary alternatives to animal products are better for the environment and for human health when compared with the animal products they are designed to replace, say the authors of a new study.

A new paper published in Future Foods has identified multiple benefits of plant-based animal product alternatives for the environment, public health, personal health, and animals.

The research, conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath, examined 43 studies into the health and sustainability impacts of plant-based foods, as well as consumer attitudes. It concludes that plant-based meat and dairy alternatives “offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution to the which takes into account consumer preferences and behaviour.”

Sustainability advantages

The review found that plant-based products have a far lower climate impact than the animal products they were replacing. A 2016 lifecycle assessment analysed 39 plant-based alternatives, and found they were responsible for up to 54 times less than their animal-derived counterparts. Another paper in 2021 found that, compared to beef burgers, plant-based burgers were associated with up to 98 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.

The review also looked at the land, water, and pollution impacts of plant-based versus animal products, finding the plant-based alternatives have a consistently smaller impact.

Health benefits

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 percent of conventional meat products were classified as ‘less healthy’ compared to just 14 percent 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. There is also the opportunity for food producers 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.

Shifting demand

The study also reviewed literature on consumer demand for plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs. The consistent finding is that the majority of purchases are by omnivores seeking to replace animal products with foods that function in the same way. One study found that almost 90 percent of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy were in fact meat-eaters or flexitarians; another found that plant-based products with a similar taste, texture, and price to processed meat had the best chance of replacing meat.

Report author Dr Chris Bryant 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.”

Future potential

Dr Bryant anticipates even greater improvements to come. “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 study 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.

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