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 behavior.'
A new paper published in Future Foods 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.
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% of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy were 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% 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% less greenhouse gas emissions.
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% of conventional meat products were classified as ‘less healthy’ compared to just 14% of plant-based alternatives based on the UK’s Nutrient Profiling Model.
Others found 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.
This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence, says researchers, 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.
The research author suggested that more research will now be needed to make these improvements a reality, ensuring manufacturers can make products that taste better, are healthier, and provide consumers with sustainable options that are more likely to reduce the demand for meat.