I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the recent Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) Conference, hosted by the University of Oxford. There were a number of highly interesting talks and discussions through the course of the conference. I was particularly fascinated by the talk hosted by Roberta Alessandrini on the macro-nutrient profiles of plant-based meat substitutes as compared to their animal meat equivalents.
As Ms Alessandrini explained, she found that plant alternatives tended to score better than meat when considering the information available on their respective food labels. Meat products were generally higher in both fat and saturated fat, with plant substitutes higher in fibre. However, there was found to be a significant trade-off with the plant alternatives being higher in salt content and only a third of the plant products analysed meeting Public Health England’s targets. However, on the whole, you are more likely to find animal meat products marked with the red labels advising consumers to limit consumption.
Following on from this, there was then an excellent panel discussion where the question was raised as to whether these plant-based meat products had a sufficient micro-nutrient profile (healthcare experts often note that vegans are at risk of Calcium and Vitamin B12) and the issue of cost to the consumer – with more research and work to be done on both of these areas. There was also the issue of whether more traditional alternatives to meat (such as legumes) would be better choices and what the findings might mean for milk and dairy substitutes.
Overall, it seems that plant-based meat substitutes are capable of replacing animal meat products as both a healthier and more environmentally friendly alternative. However, there is still more work to be done in improving the nutritional value of these products as well as their affordability to the general consumer – and I look forward to hearing more on the development of meat alternatives in the future.