Plant-based meat substitutes available in Australian supermarkets may have the appearance of being a healthful option, but on average contain six times more sodium than meat.
In an audit of major Australian retail chains conducted in last year the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council identified 137 plant-based meat substitutes available on supermarket shelves, ranging from ‘bleeding’ burgers to nut roasts.
That represented a category growth rate of 429 percent since 2015, albeit from a very low base.
The council said the plant-based catrogy presents an opportunity to meet whole grain targets and increase consumption of legumes in a convenient food form with known acceptability among consumers.
However, a comparison of plant based products and real meat products incorporating the GLNC audit, published in the journal Nutrients, concluded more informaiton was needed on product labelling to help consumers to make fully informed decisions.
Of the 137 plant-based products identified, the study found one third included protein-rich legumes such as beans and lentils, and one fifth were made with whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.
The research found plant-based products were lower in kilojoules, fats and protein, and higher in carbohydrates and dietary fibre, compared to meat.
Of particular concern for plant-based products was the finding they contained on average six times more sodium than meat. Importantly, this nutrient was the leading dietary factor in terms of the global burden of disease.
Less than a quarter were fortified with nutrients like Vitamin B12, Iron, and Zinc, which are naturally contained in many animal-based meats.
Based on these findings, the study concluded that more guidance is needed in the development of plant-based meats, alongside input from nutrition professionals to ensure consumers can make healthy choices at the supermarket shelf.
Although some of the plant-based meat substitutes contain valuable nutrients from the whole grain and legume ingredients and offered a convenient option, the study concluded that it was important to ensure consumers were informed it can be beneficial not to remove protein-rich whole foods as well.
In comparison to similar animal meat products, plant-based meat substitutes may have the appearance of being a healthful option, the study noted, but on closer inspection, care and some guidance may need to be provided to consumers about how to construct plant-based diets.
“Overall, the products lack equivalence with similar meat products, a limitation for vegetarian/vegans and meat consumers alike who may fall short of key nutrients,” the report concluded.
“Balanced messages about not needing to be entirely meat free may be necessary from both a sustainability and nutritional point of view.
The GLNC runs a rolling audit of a range of grain and legume foods on shelf in the four major Australian supermarkets (Coles, Woolworths, IGA, ALDI), revisiting major categories biennially.
Product audits help identify nutrition trends and track changes in the market, with all on-pack information collected and analysed; including nutrients, ingredients, whole grain and legume content, and all nutrition and health claims.
To view full report click here https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/11/2603/htm