Research found that the products should not be used regularly as a replacement for high-protein foods such as meat.
THEY MAY BE branded as replacements for burgers, sausages and mince but new research into hundreds of vegetarian ‘meat substitutes’ for sale on the Irish market has found that many are not a source of protein and aren’t as healthy as some consumers believe.
An analysis of 354 plant-based meat alternatives carried out by SafeFood has recommended that most of the products should not be used frequently as an alternative to meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses and nuts.
The study found that, although the products are positioned in a category of foods that provide protein, 25% of them fail to deliver the important nutrient.
“One in four of the products we surveyed were not an adequate source of protein. When we asked people about these products, a third of people thought they were healthy or better for them,” Dr Catherine Conlon of Safefood said.
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.
The research found that more than one third of Irish adults said they eat plant-based versions of burgers, sausages, chicken or fish.
The top three reasons for purchasing them were that they were ‘healthy or better for you’ (33%), for taste (21%) and environmental impact (15%).
Despite many people perceiving them as healthier, Safefood warned that they are still processed, or highly processed foods, so consumption should be limited accordingly.
The meat alternatives were found to range in nutritional quality so consumers were advised to read nutrition labels and look for products containing sources of protein and micronutrients when possible.
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“The reality is that these are processed foods and a bit of a mixed bag. If you are going to eat them, read the label and look for products that are a good source of protein and lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt,” Dr Conlon said.
“There are lots of protein sources that you can choose from including meat, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu and chickpeas,” she added.
Safefood also advised people to be aware that plant-based meat-substitutes generally contain more carbohydrates and less calories than meat, so adjustments may be needed when using the products to directly replace meat due to their differing nutritional profile.