A new peer-reviewed paper has determined that plant-based alternatives to animal proteins are better for the health of both our community and our planet.
Extraction, characterisation and functional applications of sustainable alternative protein sources for future foods: A review, was published in Future Foods, and examined 43 studies into the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods.
It found that because plant-based foods are designed to replicate the taste, texture and eating experience of animal products, they are a much more effective way of reducing demand for meat and dairy, when compared to encouraging people to simply eat more vegetarian wholefoods.
Crucially, the report determined that when compared to traditional animal products, plant-based alternatives are better for both the environment and human health.
“PB-APAs (plant-based animal product alternatives) offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution which takes into account consumer preferences and behaviour,” the report reads. “They are consumed in place of animal products, and should therefore be compared with such products.
“PB-APAs are found to be preferable from an environmental perspective in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, and they do not contribute to the growing global health threats of antibiotic resistance or pandemic risk. They are also preferable from a nutritional perspective in terms of saturated fat, cholesterol, fibre, and a range of other nutrients.”
The report found plant-based products generate lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than their counterparts, and generally require much less agricultural land and water. They also produce less pollution than animal products.
Studies focusing on the healthiness of plant-based products found they tend to have better nutritional profiles than animal-based products. They’ve also been found to be helpful for weight loss and building muscle mass, and to help people with specific health conditions.
The ability for plant-based manufacturers to add ingredients such as edible fungi, microalgae or spirulina to their products can enhance their health attributes, boosting properties such as amino acids, vitamin B and E, and antioxidants. The nutritional profile of plant-based foods is likely to improve further, the report suggests, as future innovations in processing and ingredients become available.
“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,” said report author, Chris Bryant of the University of Bath, UK.
“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.”