Health authorities recommend that developed countries increase their intake of plant protein for personal health and planetary benefits. But what is the optimal dietary intake ratio of animal protein to plant protein, and how can consumers achieve that balance? A paper recently published in Advances in Nutrition offers recommendations and aims to inform health professionals about the role plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) can have in increasing plant protein intake. Specifically, this new research review highlights the nutritional attributes of PBMAs and identifies variety and convenience as two primary reasons for consuming PBMAs as part of a well-balanced diet.
Protein plays a vital role in health, and there are many options to help meet daily protein requirements. Animal protein has an important culinary and cultural role in many societies and is a staple in Western diets. Developed nations, including the U.S., consume approximately twice as much animal protein as plant protein. Though an optimal dietary intake ratio of animal to plant protein has not been established, the authors of this newly published paper indicate replacing 4 servings of animal protein with plant protein per week provides a reasonable goal of 1.2:1 ratio.
Legumes and foods made from soybeans such as tofu and tempeh provide ample amounts of protein but are underutilized in most regions of the world. Globally, only about 6% of protein is derived from pulses; in the U.S. that figure is only 2%. Greater public health efforts are needed to increase the consumption of these foods. A viable option to consuming legumes in the traditional manner is to consume foods based on protein extracted from legumes, such as plant-based burgers and other meat alternatives.
The new generation of PBMAs is designed to mimic the taste and texture of the products they are intended to replace so they are more likely to be embraced by omnivores than cooked legumes. Plant-based burgers such as soy burgers may be particularly appealing to individuals consuming plant-predominant diets because they can be fortified with shortfall nutrients, such as zinc and vitamin B12.
PBMAs like soy-based burgers, patties, and breakfast links can also serve as transition foods, helping new vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians bridge the gap between a diet that includes animal protein and one that is less dependent on it. Because of their variety and convenience, PBMAs can also help consumers stick to their plant-forward diet. Importantly, as noted in another recently published paper, despite being “processed,” soy-based burgers deliver high-quality nutrition on par with their unprocessed or minimally processed animal-based counterparts.
“With advancements in food science and manufacturing, food companies have new ways to create plant-based meat alternatives and fortify them with shortfall nutrients, which strengthens their role in a healthy diet,” says Alison Duncan, PhD, RD, FDC, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, and one of the authors of this paper. “As plant-based meat alternatives gain popularity, consumers will need guidance regarding their use. One of the goals of this paper is to provide that guidance. Plant-predominant eating patterns are trending as more consumers seek to improve their overall health and consume sustainably grown plant protein through dietary changes, and PBMAs are just one more food to add to the dietary toolbox.”
PBMAs offer a convenient, nutritious, and sustainable way to balance the animal to plant protein intake ratio in developed countries. The authors of this paper suggest that by replacing just 4 servings of meat per week with a soy-based burger, consumers can lower their animal to plant protein intake ratio from ~2.1:1 to 1.2:1.
Soy Nutrition Institute (SNI) Global is a 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation that funds research and shares evidence-based information on the impact of soybeans and soy ingredients for human health and nutrition. For more information about the Soy Nutrition Institute Global, visit www.SNIGlobal.org.
Partially funded by the U.S. Soy