Is plant-based meat a healthy option?

Plant-based meat (PBM) products such as plant-based burgers and sausages mimic the taste and texture of conventional meat products and require very little preparation. The primary ingredients of these products can be vegetables, whole pulses, or fungal proteins such as mycoprotein. However, most of these products are based on soya and pea protein isolates and wheat.

Since these products have become widely available only recently, there isn’t evidence showing the long-term health impacts linked to the consumption of these foods. Intervention studies suggest potential benefits in terms of weight and cholesterol reduction, but more research is needed. PBM products often fall under the category of ultra-processed foods, which are linked to health risks. However, evidence specific to PBM is lacking, and it is challenging to generalise based on the classification alone.

On the other hand, several studies have shown that PBM products generally have better nutrient profiles than meat, with lower saturated fat and more fibre. Yet, some products may be high in salt. PBM may lack key micronutrients found in meat, like vitamin B12 and bioavailable zinc and iron. Fortified PBM products can help meet these nutrient needs.

Recommendations for PBM consumption frequency are missing, but choosing healthier plant-based meat products instead of red and processed meat (which have negative health and environmental implications) might be advisable. Allergen considerations are important, as PBM may contain common allergens.

Legumes, whole grains, nuts, tempeh and tofu are the best protein sources for their health and environmental benefits. However, not everyone has the cooking skills or the time to prepare healthy whole plant-based foods daily. PBM products can serve as a convenient option for people wanting to reduce their meat intake and transition to more plant-based diets.