A new study led by the University of Bath has found that plant-based dietary alternatives to animal products are better for human health and the environment than the meat products they are designed to replace.
According to the experts, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives “offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution which takes into account consumer preferences and behavior.” Moreover, since they are specifically created 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 products than just encouraging people to eat vegetarian meals.
By examining 43 studies focused on the environmental and health impact of plant-based foods, the scientists found that these products tend to have better nutritional profiles than animal products, and are highly beneficial for weight loss, building muscle mass, and improving overall health.
Moreover, since producers can add ingredients such as edible fungi, microalgae, or spirulina to plant-based foods, they can boost the amounts of amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamins B and E in these products, thus further improving their nutritional profile.
Plant-based products were also found to cause lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the animal ones, while generally requiring less agricultural land and water, and causing less pollution than animal-based products. Thus, increasing the use of such products will have not only significant health benefits, but will also help fighting climate change by safeguarding the environment.
“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,” said study author Christopher Bryant, a psychologist at the University of Bath.
“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.”
Further research is needed to make these improvements a reality, and ensure that manufacturers can make tastier and healthier products that provide consumers with sustainable options that are more likely to reduce the demand for animal products.
The study is published in the journal Future Foods.