One Quarter Of Meat Substitutes Have Insufficient Protein – Safefood
A SafeFood Ireland report on vegetarian meat substitutes found that 28% or just over one-quarter of the 354 meat substitute products tested did not contain either high amounts of protein or could be considered an alternative source of protein. As a result of these findings, Safefood has stated that "consumers need to be aware of this if relying on these foods as a protein source." This statistic was widely reported in various Irish News publications. A less reported finding from the same report was the 49%, or almost half of the products examined are considered a high protein source (where the percentage of energy from protein is 20% or more), which will be detailed along with other findings below.
The report examined "ready to eat" vegetarian and vegan/ plant-based products available in Ireland between March & May 2020. The report examined a wide range of meat substitutes, from falafel to meat-style burgers, bean burgers, sausage rolls, spinach bites, nuggets, and fish substitutes. It should be noted at this point that the range of products cover both the highly processed meat alternatives (meat style burgers, fish replacements, etc are all highly processed, industrial-grade food) to those which are less processed or closed to nature (bean burgers, spinach bites, falafel etc are made using actual plants i.e. beans, spinach, chickpeas etc.
Shifting The Focus Away From Protein
While the media coverage of the Safefood report focused on the minority of products that did not contain adequate protein levels to be considered a meat alternative, there were several other key nutritional findings that paint plant-based substitutes to meat in a more positive light. Table 5 (below) taken from the report, show the comparison of plant based meat replacements to actual meat in the areas of carbohydrates, calories, fat, fibre, and saturated fat:
The table below highlights that while 28% of plant based products did not contain adequate protein levels (72% did), actual meat is higher in calories, fat and saturated fat, while plant based products contain higher levels of carbohydrates and fibre, which aids digestion. It should be noted that the chicken and turkey burgers carbohydrate content is a white breadcrumb coating, which has been stripped of almost all of their fibre and nutrient content.
Key Take Away: Educate Yourself
The SafeFood report itself was, upon reading, balanced and did not appear to demonise meat substitutes or alternatives. However, the media focus on the minority products which did not contain adequate levels of protein may alter consumers perceptions of the product category as a whole. Here at Plant-Based Ireland, we advocate for the consumption of a diet consisting of whole plants in their natural form, while keeping processed food intake to a minimum.
Plant-based meat substitutes are a relatively new product category, but should not be the foundation on which one builds a healthy, sustainable plant-based diet upon. Consumers should be constantly educating themselves on their eating, and always remember that the health benefits of a plant-based diet are found in the nutrient content of the plants themselves, not in the absence of animal products.
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