The trend towards plant-based protein

plant protein - thrive magazine

One of the major trends in the food and health industries over the last couple of years has definitely been plant based diet and foods. And a lot of focus has been put on plant-based sources of protein to reduce the production and consumption of animal products such as meat and dairy.

In order to deliver nutritious food to all the global growing population, we’ll need to make the food system more sustainable as the current reliance on animal-based protein sources is putting a great strain on the environment. Meat, dairy and egg production is more water, land and greenhouse gas intensive than plants production. It also contributes to pollution through liquid waste discharged into rivers and seas.

There are several factors that are contributing to the rise in popularity of plant-based proteins. One of the main ones is certainly sustainability and environmental concerns. Climate change and the urgent measures needed to slow its speed have taken centre stage in recent years and is one factor driving consumers to switch to a more plant-based diet. The production of plant-based meat alternatives to contribute 10 times fewer greenhouse emissions than equivalent beef-based products while animal farming currently contributes to 60% of global greenhouse gases emissions. A decline in meat and dairy consumption has been widely reported as one of the main actions to lower our impact on the environment and substantially reduce pollution and gas emissions.

Another element that plays a big role in the movement towards plant-based diets and protein sources is the increased awareness on the benefits that they can have, not only on the health of the planet, but on our own health. A well-planned plant based or plant predominant diet that meets all of our nutrient requirements, seems to have positive effects on lowering the risks of lifestyle and diet driven conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes type 2. And as plant-based options become more popular, accessible and affordable choosing to reduce meat and dairy consumption feels like a great step to take to support physical and mental health for many people. This doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a vegan diet but simply centre the diet around plants and make meat and dairy occasional foods instead of a staple following what has been renamed a “flexi-tarian” diet.
Plus, the recent advancements in technology have made meat alternatives derived from soy, wheat, pea, nuts not only more sustainable but quite similar in taste to meat, being able to appeal to a wider audience. Main supermarkets and fast food chains have brought out their own-label lines of plant-based burgers, sausages, frozen meals to attract a wider audience and ride the vegan/plant-based trend with a huge positive feedback translating in higher sales. Think about the major burger chains offering veggie burgers that have received the same appraisal as the meat-based counterparts or huge dairy companies acquiring major producers of plant-based alternatives.

Plant based proteins are definitely a food market and health trend that won’t slow down anytime soon.

Plant based proteins are definitely a food market and health trend that won’t slow down anytime soon. Especially as the available options keep growing. There are meat substitutes based on soya/pea protein, wheat gluten (seitan) that resemble meat in texture and flavour which are quite useful for restaurants/cafes to adapt their existing recipes and offer classics with a plant-based twist. Good to attract new customers but also regulars inviting them to try a different variation of their favourite.

One of the most recent trends in the faux-meats space has been jackfruit. Whilst it’s not necessarily a great source of protein, it works really well to resemble the pulled pork/shredded chicken tex-ture in ready meals and menu options.

Of course, plant based protein sources don’t only involve substitutes or more processed forms but also include the humble legumes (like beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, peanuts), whole grains (like oats, buckwheat, quinoa, wheat), nuts and seeds (for example, almonds, cashews, walnuts) and algae like chlorella, spirulina and other types of seaweeds. These are not only cheaper but also highly nutritious containing essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Some sources such as quinoa or hemp are regarded as “complete” meaning that they contain all the 9 essential amino acids that are always found in animal products while others aren’t, in the sense that they don’t include all of the essential amino acids but by having varied sources of plant proteins in your meals over the course of a day, you’ll be able to hit all the essential nutrients requirements.

In terms of sustainability, there are some plant-based protein sources that use the least amount of resources which will certainly be a great focus of interest in the coming years as health and environmental consciousness will become driving factors of both people’s and companies demands and offerings.

Among these are peas, quinoa, lentils, rice, beans, spirulina, hemp and chia seeds. Definitely start experimenting with them and make this trend towards plant-based protein sources a part of your lifestyle too.

Article written by Thrive Expert – Alessandra Felice. For Summer issue of Thrive Magazine. Find out more from Alessandra at: www.yoursweetnutrition.com