Plant-based meat alternatives are booming on supermarket shelves across the nation.
That is a key finding of a Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) study showing a five-fold increase in the Australian category - up 429 per cent - since 2015.
The study found supermarket shelves were packed with 137 plant-based meat alternative products, ranging from 'bleeding' burgers to nut roasts.
Findings of this research - comparing plant-based meat alternatives with their animal-based equivalents - were published in the international journal Nutrients during October and presented at the Nutrition Society of Australia conference in Newcastle, New South Wales, in December. Read the full report: Plant-based meat substitutes in the Flexitarian Age: An audit of products on supermarket shelves.
Providing a snapshot of the plant-based meat category, the data was collected from products in the four major Australian supermarkets (Woolworths, Coles, IGA and ALDI) as part of the GLNC study, which was titled 'Plant-based meat substitutes in the flexitarian age: an audit of products on supermarket shelves'.
Quality of meat substitutes
Researchers found that plant-based meat substitutes - many containing chickpeas (pictured above) - were generally lower in kilojoules, fats and protein, and higher in carbohydrates and dietary fibre, than traditional animal-based meats.
One third of the products examined as part of the GLNC audit were made with protein-rich legumes, such as beans and lentils, while 20 per cent of plant-based burgers contained wholegrains, such as brown rice and quinoa.
These findings highlight the opportunities for plant-based meat alternatives to help overcome nutritional deficiencies - as convenience poses a major barrier to consumption of both wholegrains and legumes.
Choosing a plant-based meat alternative made with ingredients derived from wholegrains and legumes can help increase consumption of these foods.
Future developments identified
However, the study also found that there is scope for improvement in the category.
For example, it showed that plant-based 'mince' was six times higher in sodium than its traditional counterpart - and less than a quarter of products were fortified with nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc, all of which are naturally contained in many animal-based meats.
Based on these findings, the GLNC is calling for more guidance in the development of plant-based meat alternatives.
The Council is also seeking input from nutrition professionals, to help consumers make healthier choices when selecting foods from supermarket shelves.
The plant-based protein trend, which is predicted to continue in 2020 and beyond, could provide a 'win-win' for our health and the environment.
This is because plant-based foods, such as beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, are packed with nutrients. Production of these foods also has a lower environmental impact than animal-based meats.
Consuming half a cup or 100 grams of beans, peas or lentils can deliver a significant protein boost.
Making your own plant-based burgers with a variety of wholegrains and legumes can help deliver this protein lift.