‘Huge variation’ in nutritional value of plant-based products

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

The Quadram Institute looked at more than 2,500 plant-based products. Credit: Upside Foods
The Quadram Institute looked at more than 2,500 plant-based products. Credit: Upside Foods

Related tags meat-free

There is currently a “huge amount of variation” in the nutritional qualities of plant-based products on the UK market, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Quadram Institute, a centre for food and health research based in Norwich, carried out a comprehensive survey of the nutritional quality of plant-based products on sale in the UK which looked at 2,695 plant-based products and comparing them with their animal-based counterparts.

Dr Maria Traka and her team in the Food & Nutrition National Bioscience Research Infrastructure (NBRI) found that on average plant-based products were higher in fibre, but lower in protein. However, the level of variation in nutritional value across the plant-based market means that concrete conclusions were difficult to draw.

The 2,695 products that were surveyed included plant-based drinks, sausages, cheese and meat-free beef, chicken and fish, as well as 446 plant-based ready meals.

To address the lesser amount of protein in plant-based products, researchers said that innovations in protein sources, processing and absorption could offer solution. They also noted that most adults currently get enough protein in their diet, while most do not get enough fibre.

Meanwhile, the researchers advocated for adding vitamins and essential minerals to plant-based product, a practice which does take place but not on a widespread basis. Vitamin B12 is the most widely supplemented nutrient, followed by calcium, vitamin D and iron, but B12 is only added to 15% of plant-based products.

“Overall, we’ve identified trends that plant-based foods are higher in fibre and lower in protein, but we can’t give an overall blanket answer to whether plant-based food products are healthier than their animal-based counterparts,”​ said Dr Maria Traka.

“This very much depends on each product’s formulation, so it’s important that manufacturers provide this information and share it correctly with consumers so that they can make informed decisions.”

Meanwhile, first author of the study Dr Liangzi Zhang added: “Currently there is a large amount of variation in how healthy these products are, but this presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to up their game and improve their formulations, including through fortification with essential vitamins and minerals.”

In other news, Listeria monocytogenes contamination has caused multiple product recalls.

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