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Healthline Physical Health

Plant-based meat alternatives really are healthier, new review suggests

  • The plant-based meat and dairy alternative markets have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years.

  • Researchers from the University of Bath found evidence suggesting these products are better for both our health and the environment.

  • Today’s plant-based alternatives may be easier for people to transition to when looking for vegetarian options.

Plant-based meat and dairy products are rapidly-growing industries.
Experts valued the global plant-based meat market at over $5 billion last year, with forecasts expecting it to increase by 19% from 2022 through 2030.
And the plant-based dairy alternatives market reportedly totaled $11 billion in 2020 with projections to hit $32 million in 2031.
Now a new study from the University of Bath says that plant-based meat and dairy products are both better for human health and the environment.
The new study recently appeared in the journal Future Foods.

What are plant-based meat and dairy products? 

Meat alternative productsTrusted Source first appeared in the 1960s and they were made from soy. Later, alternatives made of texturized vegetable proteinTrusted Source (TVP) also appeared on the marker.

Today’s plant-based meat alternative products use ingredients like soy, pea protein, oils, potato starch, and various binders and flavorings to closely mimicTrusted Source the texture and taste of real meat.

Plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk dairy productsTrusted Source received a much earlier start, with the first report of soy milkTrusted Source in China about 2,000 years ago.

Although soy milk products continue to be popular, they now share store shelves with dairy alternatives made from oats, rice, almonds, hemp, and coconut.

And today’s dairy alternative products have expanded from just a milk-type beverage to include alternatives for yogurt, butter, cheeses, and ice cream.

Plant-based vs. Real meat and dairy products

For the study, Dr. Bryant and his team reviewed 43 studies looking at the health and environmental factors of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. Researchers also examined consumer attitudes toward plant-based foods.

Based on their research, the team found that 90% of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy products followed a flexitarian diet, which allows for moderate animal meat consumption.

Researchers also found that people tended to choose plant-based meat products that were similar in taste, texture, and price to real meat.

“Plant-based meat is an easy and convenient way to directly replace meat in familiar dishes, so that makes it easier than eating whole plant foods only for people who want to eat less meat,” Dr. Chris Bryant, honorary research associate for the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, research consultant through Bryant Research Ltd, and lead author of this study, told Medical News Today.

“If you can still have a burger or a bolognese without needing to come up with completely new plant-based dishes, that makes it far easier, and for many people, more enjoyable,” he added.

Are plant-based substitutes healthy?

According to Dr. Bryant, the purpose of this study was to investigate the healthiness and environmental sustainability of plant-based animal product alternatives.
“There seems to be a lot of misinformation on this topic, and misconceptions based on the idea that such products are ‘processed’ or ‘unnatural’,” Dr. Bryant told MNT.
“Many people may have the intuition that this means these products are unhealthy or bad for the environment, but as the study showed, the evidence suggests the opposite. In fact, plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than the animal products they replace,” he explained.
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