The popularity and rise in demand for plant-based meat are due to the concern about the adverse effect of red meat on human health and the climate. Due to this, food and meat producers are diversifying into the production of plant-based meat alternatives that mimic the experience and nutritional profile of red meat. Compared to factory farming, the growing of plants has a lower environmental footprint. Also, plant-based meat products are not only targeted at vegans and vegetarians but also meat-eaters. In this article, we will discuss in detail the nutritional and environmental impact of eating plant-based meat.
An Introduction To Plant-Based Meat
Plant-based meat products have become popular with the introduction of burgers by Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. With their overwhelming success and acceptance by the people, other food manufactures are beginning to produce their versions of plant-based burgers.
Plant-based meat is made to mimic the sensory experience of red meat products like burgers, sausages, meatballs, etc. This is achieved with the help of various ingredients derived from plant sources. Some of the proteins used in them are soy, pea, rice, wheat, potato, and mycoprotein. The fats used are sourced from coconut, canola, soybean, and sunflower oil. Other ingredients include vegetable extracts, flavoring agents, and leghemoglobin that mimics blood. Furthermore, plant-based meat manufacturers also add nutrients like B-vitamins, zinc, and iron; these are naturally found in meat. The combined effect of these ingredients is that these plant-based meat alternatives resemble the nutritional profile of regular meat.
The Nutrition Of Plant-Based Meat And Meat
Plant-based meat alternatives are targeted at vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. One of the biggest doubts about them is whether they can adequately satisfy the nutrition provided by meat. Remember that some of the nutrients readily available from animal-based food are not available from plant-based food; the contrary is also true about some nutrients.
A plant-based diet readily fulfills vitamin C and magnesium requirements. Apart from this, plant-based food has higher amounts of folate, vitamin E, vitamin K1, thiamine, potassium, and manganese. Also, studies have shown that some of the phytochemicals found in plant foods protect against the adverse effects of compounds found in cooked red meat. Some of these compounds are nitroso compounds, advanced glycation end products, malondialdehyde, heterocyclic amines, etc. However, nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin K2, vitamin D, polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and minerals like zinc, and iron are more easily obtained from animal-based food products. These are essential nutrients because they play a key role in the development and regeneration of tissues.
You must know that some of the aforementioned nutrients are found in plant-based food either in a slightly different form or as their precursors. For instance, iron found in leafy green vegetables is in the non-heme form, which is not easily absorbed by the body. Also, carotenoids (provitamin A) found in carrots is converted to retinol (vitamin A). The efficiency of this conversion ranges between 3.5% to 28% and this depends on the genetic variability of individuals. So, those whose body cannot effectively convert carotenoids to retinol may suffer from vitamin A deficiency if they solely rely on plant foods for this nutrient. Furthermore, this condition is particularly common in women of childbearing age and young children of countries with level 1 income (Income levels – Hans Rosling). This is because they primarily depend on beta carotene or provitamin A for satisfying their vitamin A needs.
The Ecological Impact: Plant-Based Meat Vs Meat
The main reason for the support for plant-based meat is environmental degradation and the contribution to climate change due to meat production. Studies have shown that by carefully selecting plant-based foods, you can get the required amounts of protein, vitamin A, and iron. This results in a lower carbon footprint when compared to a similar omnivore diet. Besides, you can easily meet your dietary requirements for nutrients like beta-carotene, manganese, folate, copper, and thiamine through a plant-based diet.
Plant-based meat alternatives are preferred over beef because of their lower carbon footprint. According to plant-based burger producers, their carbon emission is between +3.2 and +3.5 kg CO2-eq emissions/per kg product. For beef, this ranges from +10.2 to +48.5 kgCO2-eq per kg product.
Nutrients To Look Out For In Plant-Based Food
Protein: The recommended daily allowance of protein for an adult is 0.8g of protein/kg of body weight. Animal proteins are of higher quality compared to plant proteins. Often, the latter is not a complete protein; generally, plant proteins are lower in amino acids methionine or lysine along with leucine. The pea protein used for making plant-based meat is particularly low in methionine.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is absent in most plant-based foods, but it is easily available through animal-based food products like meat, eggs, and dairy. However, it is found in some plant foods like fermented vegetables and mushrooms.
Iron And Zinc: The absorption of iron and zinc from plant-based food is limited mainly due to the presence of antinutrients like phytates, polyphenols, lectins, and certain fibers.
We hope that the details shared in this article gave you a better understanding of the nutritional and environmental impact of eating plant-based meat.