New research from safefood has found that many plant-based meat substitutes currently on the market are not a source of, or high in, protein.
The safefood research looked at the nutritional content of 354 vegetarian meat substitute products on sale in supermarkets across Ireland. These products included plant-based alternatives such as mince, burgers, and sausages and are positioned in the same category of foods that provide protein such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts, and beans. However, safefood found that 25 per cent of processed vegetarian meat-substitute products are not a source of, or high in, protein.
The research also found that among those who purchase these products, one in three (34 per cent ) did so because they perceived them to be ‘healthy/better for you’.
“Judging by the number of meat substitute products now available, it’s clear that Irish people are leaning towards eating more of a plant-based diet," said Dr Catherine Conlon, director of human health and nutrition at safefood. "This is ultimately a good thing. However, these are still packaged, processed foods.
“When we asked people about vegetarian meat-substitute products, one in three people thought they were healthy or better for them. However, many of these plant-based products are simply highly processed foods – if you think about it, eating a sausage roll, whether that’s plant-based or meat, is still a sausage roll."
According to industry reports, vegan is the third fastest growing on-pack claim for food and drink launches globally over the last five years.
"Many of these products appear to be healthier because of the marketing around them. We know when something says ‘plant-based’ or ‘low’ in something, we perceive it to be healthier because it's made from plants," Dr Conlon added.
"Eating a plant-based diet that's full of wholefoods, like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and lentils is healthier. My advice would be to look at the information panels on the back of the pack to really understand what's in them."
The full report, Vegetarian, plant-based meat substitutes; Products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland and consumer behaviours and perceptions, can be downloaded from www.safefood.net