Meat Alternatives: Protein or Not Protein? That is the Question

According to research by Safefood, over a quarter of processed, vegetarian meat-substitute products are not a source of protein.

The Ireland-based food safety and nutrition organisation looked at the nutritional content of 354 ready-to-eat and main meal vegetarian, plant-based meat substitutes available in supermarkets in Ireland between April and May 2020.

While many were lower in calories, fat, and saturated fat, most had lower protein than their meat equivalents and their salt levels were similar or higher. One in four did not contain enough protein to be considered a source of protein.

The report said that the products included meat-free burgers, steaks, mince, meatballs, nuggets, sausages, and fish substitutes. Also included were falafels and other bean and pulse-based products. The products surveyed were highly processed and contained multiple ingredients, including ingredients added for flavour and texture.

EU nutrient labelling rules state that if the percentage of energy that comes from protein is between 12 and 19.9 percent, the product can claim to be a source of protein. If the percentage of energy that comes from protein is 20 percent or greater, the product can claim to be high in protein.

According to the report, 28 percent of the products surveyed were not a source of, or high in protein.

Why is this significant?

According to Safefood, the protein content of meat alternatives is significant because its survey revealed one-third of Irish consumers reported eating meat substitutes, with one-third of those doing so for health reasons.

“The aim of our research was to understand how these products compared nutritionally so that we could give people information to help them make a more informed choice. We did this because we know that more than one in three adults in Ireland eat vegan or vegetarian versions of burgers, sausages, and chicken,” noted a Safefood spokesperson.

“Our research found that these products are a mixed bag. There are some positives to these products, but if people are considering these as a protein replacement, Safefood would encourage them to check the label and look for products that are a source of protein and lower in saturated fat, sugar, and salt.”

If you produce plant-based meat alternatives, this is a good opportunity to check your ingredients and any healthy food claims you make. Is your product a true protein alternative?