Meat alternatives, also known as plant-based meats or meat analogues, are made to resemble meat products and provide a replacement for meat protein. They are often composed of vegetable proteins such as soy, wheat, pea, and rice or fermented fungus protein (mycoprotein)
Even though plant-based meat substitutes are becoming more popular, often for health reasons there isn’t much proof of how they affect health.
“Both plant-based and processed meats mostly fall into the ultra-processed category, so this raises concerns about their role in a healthy diet,” says lead author Maria Shahid.
“While we found plant-based meat products were generally healthier than their processed meat equivalents, healthier alternatives would still be lean unprocessed meats and legumes, beans and falafel.”
Plant-based meats, also known as meat analogues, are foods made from plants that are meant to simulate meat products and serve as a replacement for the protein found in meat. Most of the time, they are made from soy protein, wheat protein, pea and rice protein, or a mix of these, or from ferfmented fungus protein (mycoprotein).
Because of consumer demand, more and more new products are coming out that look, feel, taste, and feel like traditional meat products. By 2030, sales in Australia alone are expected to reach almost A$3 billion.
Researchers at the George Institute used the Institute’s FoodSwitch database to make comparisons the nutrient content and nutritional quality of plant-based meat alternatives and their equivalent meat products sold in Australian supermarkets. Burgers, meatballs, mince, sausages, bacon, coated poultry, plain poultry, and meat with pastry were among the many meat items and plant-based meat analogue counterparts examined.
Using the Australian Government’s Health Star Rating system, they found that the nutritional profile of plant-based meat alternatives was better than that of equivalent meat products, and their energy content was slightly less.
While the protein level was comparable across the two groups, plant-based meat substitutes often contained more fiber and less salt and saturated fat than meat products.
But only 12 percent of the 132 plant-based meat alternatives that were looked at were fortified with iron, vitamin B12, and zinc, which are important for health and are found in meat.
Dr. Daisy Coyle, a dietitian at the George Institute, said that in Australia, processed meats are listed as “discretionary foods” in the national dietary guidelines. Because processed meats have been linked to different types of cancer, consumers are told to eat less of them as part of a healthy diet.
“But it isn’t as simple as a straight swap.”
According to Dr. Coyle, replacing meat with meat alternatives alone may result in deficiencies in essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B12 if not balanced with other sources or supplements. To prevent this, include other animal proteins like eggs, cheese, and dairy, as well as plant-based sources of iron like dark leafy greens, tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Until more information on the health impacts of plant-based meat analogues is available, Dr. Coyle recommends, consuming them in moderation with other plant-based proteins like bean patties, falafel, or tofu, or if not vegetarian or vegan, lean meats and seafood.
Image Credit: Gado/Getty Images
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