BATH, United Kingdom — Vegetarians may have the right idea after all. A new review from food scientists at the University of Bath suggests plant-based meat products are healthier and better for the environment than animal-based meats.
“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,” says Chris Bryant, a professor of psychology at the University of Bath, in a university release. “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.”
Plant-based meats have come a long way. Only eating tofu is a thing of the past now that “beyond” and “impossible” meat alternatives can mimic the taste, texture, and eating experience of animal meats. As more options become available, people appear to be forgoing the meat and dairy aisle in favor of vegetarian cuisines.
The current review analyzed the results of 43 studies looking at the health and environmental impact of plant-based foods. They also looked for trends on consumer behavior, specifically how people felt about eating substitute meat. In one study, 90 percent of people eating plant-based meat and dairy were meat-eaters or flexitarians — people following a vegetarian diet but occasionally eating meat. Study authors also concluded that plant-based products with the closest taste to processed meat were more likely to replace actual animal meat.
From meat-eater to environmentalist?
Not only do diners enjoy the taste, but plant-based foods allow them to eat “guilt-free.” The review found that plant-based products lower more greenhouse gas emissions than animal products. For example, estimates show that replacing five percent of German beef consumption with pea protein lowers carbon dioxide emissions by eight million tons a year. Choosing plant-based burgers versus beef burgers could lessen greenhouse emissions by 98 percent. One reason why plant-based foods are better for the environment is that they require less farmland and water and create less pollution than the meat industry.
In terms of health, researchers say plant-based products are better for the body than animal meat. One study classified 40 percent of meat products as “less healthy,” in comparison to 14 percent of plant-based alternatives.
Plant-based meats and dairy options also help with weight loss and building muscle mass. One reason is because food makers can get creative with their recipes, adding edible fungi, microalgae, or spirulina to plant-based foods. In turn, people are consuming more amino acids, vitamin B, vitamin E, and antioxidants. However, other factors such as total calorie intake and exercise levels also play an important role in a person’s overall health.
Dr. Bryant suggests future research on plant-based products should focus on how to make improvements on their taste, healthiness, and sustainability to lower the demand for meat.
The study is published in the journal Future Foods.