According to the authors of a new study, plant-based food alternatives to animal products are better for the environment and for human health than the animal products they are meant to replace.
A new article published in Foods of the future argues that because these 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 products than to simply encourage people to cook vegetarian whole foods.
The study, conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath, concludes that plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy “offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution that takes consumer preferences and behavior into account. “.
The review looked at 43 studies on the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods, as well as consumer attitudes. One study found that nearly 90% of consumers who ate meat and plant-based dairy products were actually meat eaters or flexitarians; another found that plant-based products similar in taste, texture, and price to processed meat had the best chance of replacing meat.
The paper also found that these plant-based products caused lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the animal products they replaced. A paper found that replacing 5% of German beef consumption with pea protein could reduce CO2 emissions by up to eight million tonnes per year. Another found that compared to beef burgers, plant-based burgers were associated with up to 98% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
The report’s authors suggest that plant-based products generally require far less agricultural land, require less water and cause less pollution than animal-based products.
Studies focusing on the safety of plant-based products have also found that they tend to have better nutrient profiles compared to animal-based products, with one article revealing that 40% of conventional meat products ranked as “less healthy” compared to only 14% of plant-based products. alternatives based on the UK nutrient profiling model.
Others have found plant-based meat and dairy products to be good for weight loss and building muscle mass, and can be used to help people with specific health conditions. Food producers may be able to add ingredients such as edible mushrooms, 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.
The report’s author, Dr Chris Bryant of the University of Bath, said: “We are seeing more and more how plant-based products are able to divert demand away from animal products by appealing to three essential elements that consumers are looking for: taste, price and convenience.
“This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence that, in addition to being far more sustainable than animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use, plant-based alternatives to animal products also have a wide range of health benefits.
“Despite the incredible advances plant producers have made in recent years, there is still huge potential to improve their taste, texture and cooking. There is also huge potential for innovation with ingredients and processes to improve their nutritional properties, for example by increasing vitamin content.
The authors point out that while these products have health benefits over meat, multiple personal factors will impact health, including overall calorie consumption and exercise/activity levels. People wishing to make the transition to plant-based products and vegetarian/vegan diets can find more information via the NHS: The vegetarian diet – NHS (www.nhs.uk) + The vegan diet – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Dr. Bryant suggests that more research will now be needed to make these improvements a reality, ensuring that manufacturers can make products that taste better, are healthier and offer consumers sustainable options that are more likely to reduce demand for meat.