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Nutritional Value of Plant-Based Alternatives to Meat Questioned

11/22/2021

A comprehensive review by Dr. Gary C. Smith of Colorado State University considered consumer perceptions of plant-based meat alternatives that apparently have acquired a “health halo”.  Protein is a current issue of interest among consumers with this attribute surpassing fat and caloric content as a measure of nutritional quality. 

 

Following introduction of plant-based burgers, discrepancies between the amino acid and total protein content compared to real meat were evident.  Notwithstanding the science and analytical data, consumers believed that plant-based meats were “healthier” in some non-defined way. Although the crude protein content of ground beef and two leading brands of alternatives are similar, ground beef has a more favorable amino acid profile.  In response to deficiencies in methionine, one producer of faux meat increased the essential amino acid content of their product.  Currently the nutritionally available protein content of ground beef is superior to most plant-based patties.


Dr. Gary C. Smith
Colorado State University

Dr. Smith reviewed surveys that disclosed that half of  consumers believe that plant-based alternatives are ‘healthier’ than real beef.  Most consumers are incapable of deciding on the nutritional value of a product from the Nutrition Facts label that does not specify individual amino acids.  Based on crude protein level and ignoring required daily allowance, plant-based patties appear equivalent in value. Deficiencies in amino acids and vitamins and differences in saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and salt between plant-based and real meat are evidently ignored by consumers.

 

The review concluded that the apparent “health halo” associated with plant-based alternatives to meat relate to incorrect perceptions of health and wellness but are also influenced by taste and convenience and receptivity to claims of sustainability and welfare. To date manufacturers of plant-based alternatives have targeted consumers of ground beef. Chicken products are now appearing and should be considered as competitors especially for heavily breaded nuggets and strips. Knowledge relating to the motivation to select plant-based alternatives should serve as a guide to the meat and poultry industries to devise appropriate promotional programs and to educate consumers.


 
Copyright © 2021 Simon M. Shane