Plant-based meats are touted as being better for both human health and the environment. But are they really?
In a recent paper published in Food Safety, Magazine, researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Massachusetts identify potential food safety and nutrition challenges of processed meat alternatives.
On the environmental side, the benefits of a plant-based diet are clear. “It has been estimated that if highest-income nations adopted a more plant-centric diet, it could cut greenhouse emissions by around 61%.” said the paper’s lead researcher, Dr Diana Bogueva, in a press release sent to Food Industry Executive.
On the human health side, the results are less certain. The researchers found that plant-based meat alternatives (burgers, chicken nuggets, etc.) often contain high levels of food additives, salt, genetically modified ingredients, and new sources of allergens. They also identified concerns about mislabeling (for example, suggesting that the product is healthier than real meat), changes in protein quality, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
This is not an argument against plant-based meats, but rather a call for the companies that produce them to ensure that their products meet the nutrition and quality standards that consumers expect.
“Plant-based meat alternatives are a large and growing commercial industry. It’s important that issues like food additives, the introduction of new allergens, as well as potential reductions in food quality, are all considered when designing the next generation of plant-based foods. Plant-based diets need to be safe and nutritious, while also being good for the environment,” said Dr Bogueva.