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Why plant-based meat is better for you

New research has found that plant-based meat has better nutritional values than animal-derived meat, and may also help in weight-loss

40 percent of conventional meat products were classified as 'less healthy' compared to just 14 percent of plant-based alternatives 
40 percent of conventional meat products were classified as 'less healthy' compared to just 14 percent of plant-based alternatives  (Photo by Cindie Hansen, Unsplash)

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According to a new study, plant-based nutritional substitutes for animal products are healthier for both the environment and people than the animal products they are meant to replace.

The findings of the research were published in the journal Future Foods. 

A new study 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 of reducing demand for meat and dairy than simply encouraging people to cook vegetarian whole foods.

Also Read: When plant-based food is the new normal

The study, conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath, concludes that plant-based meat and dairy alternatives 'offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution which takes into account consumer preferences and behaviour.'

The review examined 43 studies into the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods, as well as consumer attitudes. One study found that almost 90 per cent 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.

The paper also found that these plant-based products caused lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the animal products they were replacing. One paper found replacing 5 per cent of German beef consumption with pea protein could reduce CO2 emissions by up to eight million tonnes a year. Another found that compared to beef burgers, plant-based burgers were associated with up to 98 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions.

The report's authors suggest that plant-based products generally require much less agricultural land, need less water and cause less pollution than animal products.

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 per cent of conventional meat products were classified as 'less healthy' compared to just 14 per cent of plant-based alternatives based on the UK's Nutrient Profiling Model.

Others found that 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. Food producers may be able 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.

Report author, Dr Chris Bryant from the University of Bath, 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.

"This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence that as well as being far 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.

"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." 

Also Read: 3 things to eat if you are on a plant-based diet

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