Health

Report Finds Plant-Based Meat a Healthy Option: Challenging Ultra-Processed Myths

A new report by the Good Food Institute Europe suggests that plant-based meat in Europe offers a good nutritional profile on average, which may lead to various health advantages.

The report, reviewed by food scientists and health experts, analyzed recent studies conducted in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden comparing plant-based and animal meat, to determine the nutritional profile of plant-based meat against EU guidelines.

“Plant-based meat offers people a straightforward swap that can meaningfully improve the quality of their diets”

According to the figures, plant-based meats are a source of fiber, bioavailable proteins, and micronutrients, with low saturated fat. On the contrary, animal meat lacks fiber, is high in saturated fat, and can contain traces of antibiotics and bacteria. Furthermore, plant-based meat, which meets the EU definition of high-protein foods, offers similar protein calories to conventional meat in all categories except fillets. 

Planted plant-based hoisin duck
© Planted

GFI’s new report highlights the findings of preliminary studies that suggest consuming plant-based meat instead of animal meat may lead to various health advantages:

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death in Europe
  • Reducing bowel cancer risk — the second leading cause of cancer death in Europe
  • Improving gut health 
  • Helping maintain a healthy weight

“There is strong evidence that higher fiber intake is associated with a reduction in the risk of serious diseases such as coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, pancreatic cancer, and all-cause mortality,” state the authors.

The report argues that diet-related illnesses are becoming a more significant problem for European economies and health systems. As a result, governments are encouraging the adoption of plant-based foods to improve health and address GHG emissions. And plant-based meat has a key role to play in this transition.

Heura chunks
© Heura

Is plant-based meat ultra-processed?

Additionally, to shed light on the misconceptions and concerns surrounding the effects of plant-based meat on health, the study addresses consumers’ most frequent questions.

According to the report, research suggests that the ultra-processed (UPFs) designation does not accurately reflect the healthiness of plant-based meat. Ultra-processed foods are typically high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat but low in fiber, while plant-based meat does not meet these criteria.

“UPFs are often defined as being high in calories, high in sugar, high in saturated fat and low in fiber — none of which apply to plant-based meat,” state the authors.

Studies have associated UPFs that provide a source of fiber, such as plant-based meat, with reduced health risks while benefiting the microbiome. The authors argue that the criticisms of the ultra-processed criteria need to be narrower and have been inconsistently applied to plant-based meat.

Are plant-based whole foods better than plant-based meat?
While plant-based whole foods offer numerous health benefits and should be encouraged, replacing traditional meat with exclusively whole foods may hinder consumers from adopting a plant-based diet. Plant-based meat provides convenient alternatives to popular and loved animal products. 

Does plant-based meat contain many ingredients and additives?
Like most supermarket foods, both conventional and plant-based meats contain additives. However, according to the report, all additives used in Europe must meet strict food safety criteria. While concerns have been raised around additives such as nitrates in processed conventional meat, the most commonly used additives in plant-based meat are very well understood, with studies showing positive findings for health.

What about the bioavailability of plant proteins?
The authors explain that plant-based protein can be less bioavailable due to anti-nutrients contained in legumes. However, processing techniques used in plant-based meats reduce these anti-nutrients, improving the bioavailability of plant protein. It’s worth noting that other research suggests that fungi and algae proteins have similar bioavailability to animal sources.

VFC acquires Meatless Farm
Image courtesy of VFC

Public health benefits

Lastly, GFI’s report mentions the crucial public health benefits of reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based alternatives. These benefits include combating climate change by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, countering antimicrobial resistance by eliminating the need for antibiotic use in meat production, reducing the risk of pandemics by minimizing exposure to disease-carrying animals, and mitigating food insecurity by diversifying protein sources. 

“Plant-based meat offers people a straightforward swap that can meaningfully improve the quality of their diets without requiring significant behaviour change. Increased adoption can also deliver significant public health benefits, but key opportunities to enhance nutrition and support protein diversification remain,” states the report.

To download the report, please visit Plant-Based Meat and Health in Europe.

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