The wellness culture has taken over the world in the past couple of years, and with each passing year, people become more focused towards building fitness and increasing their protein intake. The National Academy of Medicine of the United States recommends that adults take about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day.1 The amino acids contained in proteins are vital to repair muscles and bones while maintaining a healthy heart and overall good immunity. The attention towards protein-rich diets leads to many conversations, and the most important one is – How are these proteins sourced?
The demand for plant-based meat alternatives
An article published recently by Fitch ratings suggests that the global protein consumption will be led by animal meat in 2023 – mainly chicken, beef and pork.2 However the controversy towards animal proteins is heavy. Animal farms and the poultry industry are receiving backlash from animal activists and sustainability enthusiasts due to many reasons – animal cruelty, unregulated hygiene in farms, high resource consumption such as high intakes of water and electricity, and the risks of animal disease outbreaks. Due to these reasons, plant-based proteins are becoming widely popular. The World Economic Forum predicts that plant-based proteins will add up to at least 11% of global protein consumption in 2035, but could increase with the help of research and development.3 In the current market, many consumers opt for plant-based proteins and tend to fulfill their protein needs through whole food protein sources like nuts, seeds, and legumes. But research indicates that nearly two-thirds of these consumers would buy meat alternatives made with whole foods if available.4 Recently, the US state of California, approved a budget of $700 million to support healthy, plant-based school lunches, opening doors for plant-based meat producers to cater towards kids and inspiring youngsters to embrace plant-based meat alternatives.
The adverse impact of farming and animal meat consumption
Animal farms have a considerable contribution towards air pollution due to greenhouse gas emission from animal manure. Long term exposure to toxic gases in animal manure including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane and other particulate matter can result in respiratory complications. Overgrazing is another major issue when it comes to cattle farming. This leads to increased amounts of bare land, deforestation, soil erosion and reduced water infiltration rate of soil. Consumption of meat infused with anabolic steroids have been reported to cause immunity deficiencies and various health complications in humans.
The seafood consumption in the near future is assumed to sky rocket as well, which may lead to overfishing. Overfishing creates imbalance in the marine ecosystem and disrupts the overall ecological stability of the ocean. Given that nearly 70% of the Earth is ocean, the imbalance of the marine ecosystems is bound to create a chain reaction of global environmental disasters and a threat to the existence of humans and wildlife in the long run.
The current status of plant-based food market
The World Economic Forum predicts that alternative meat consumption will boom in the upcoming years. The market for alternative meat will grow sevenfold than its current size3. The consumption of vegan meat and alternative meat options have been popularized mainly through social media influence, and large crowds seem to adapt to these food trends. The inclusion of plant-based meat options in restaurant menus indicates the rising popularity of this concept and the collective opinion of the society.
One of the popular plant-based protein alternatives is mushrooms. Scientists are working on producing meat alternatives through precision fermentation of mycelium in certain types of mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms. Markets in the US, Europe, Japan and Israel have already entered the plant-based protein race. Many manufacturers, including leading consumer brands like Nestle, have started to produce vegan sausages, meat, plant-based eggs and plant-based seafood options. The availability of plant-based milk made from soybeans, almonds, cashews etc. provides options for plant-based protein alternatives.
When it comes to South Asia, switching to plant-based protein alternatives is slightly easier than for the rest of the world, marking the region as easily adaptable to plant-based protein alternatives. Being an agricultural region, many sources of plant-based proteins are already incorporated in Asian diets such as soy, rice, pea, chickpea, fava beans, moringa, legumes etc. Contrary to the popular belief that rice is only a source of carbohydrates, a cup of cooked white rice contains around 4.3 grams of protein, while a cup of cooked brown rice contains about 4.5 grams. This suggests that the nutritional value of rice includes protein as well. Education and awareness on plant-based protein sources and how to balance meals play a major role in optimizing these Asian diets to harness the benefits of plant-based proteins.5,6
Recently, plant-based protein snack options and plant-forward baby food have become available in many markets, indicating the turn of trends towards plant-based protein options. The interest and increase in demand for plant-based proteins have pushed many top brands and start-ups to develop plant-based protein food options and at present, Singapore takes the lead in initiating plant-based meat alternatives in the Asian region.
The benefits of plant-based proteins
The buzz around plant-based proteins is linked to its health benefits. Studies claim that people who consume plant-based proteins instead of meat are 30% less likely to die from ischemic heart disease. Phytochemicals such as indoles and glucosinolates found in plant food helps cancer prevention. To add to this, a balanced diet rich in plant-based proteins can also help reduce the risk of stroke by 10%. Research has indicated that people on plant-based diets have lower levels of type 2 diabetes compared to those who consume animal protein. In addition to these benefits, choosing plant-based protein alternatives also contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy gut and better digestion.7
Due to the rising environmental concerns associated with animal farming, policies and regulations such as taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and relocation of farm lands have been implemented in different parts of the world. These changes make plant-based proteins an easier, healthier and sustainable option. The University of California states that animal husbandry creates more carbon emissions in a year than the entire transportation system worldwide. The additional amount of water required to produce meat can be significantly reduced and used for other essential purposes if people switched to plant-based proteins.8 Switching to plant-based protein sources saves habitable land for future generations which would otherwise be extensively used for animal farming. Plant-based meat alternatives leave a lower carbon, water and energy footprint throughout the process from cultivation and harvesting to preparation. With the growing world population, there’s a crucial need for quality air, water and habitable land in the coming years. The contribution towards a sustainable future can start by simply deciding to prepare your post-workout snack with plant-based proteins instead of meat. Researchers, scientists, farmers and investors are at the very center of this transformation. Proper application of technology will be able produce healthy and tasty sustainable food systems that consumers will be able to adapt easily. This change in consumption towards plant-based proteins is a combined effort of the whole community that needs to be driven with scientific backing, novel research, regulatory compliance and a goodwill to protect the wellbeing of humanity and Earth.
- Protein (2021) The Nutrition Source. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/ (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- (No date) Fitch Ratings: Credit Ratings & Analysis for Financial Markets. Available at: https://www.fitchratings.com/research/corporate-finance/global-protein-relative-credit-analysis-06-09-2023#:~:text=The%20USDA%20expects%20global%20chicken,followed%20by%20chicken%20and%20beef. (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- Alternative proteins will transform food, mitigate climate change and drive profits. here’s how (no date) World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/alternative-proteins-will-transform-food-mitigate-climate-change-and-drive-profits/ (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- Garwood, G. (2022) Demand growing for clean label Meat Alternatives, The Food Institute. Available at: https://foodinstitute.com/focus/demand-growing-for-clean-label-meat-alternatives/ (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- 5 plant-based protein trends for 2023 (2023) Glanbia Nutritionals. Available at: https://www.glanbianutritionals.com/en/nutri-knowledge-center/insights/5-plant-based-protein-trends (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- Does Rice have protein? all you need to know about protein in rice | Livestrong (no date) LIVESTRONG.COM. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/521067-does-rice-have-a-lot-of-protein/ (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- Animal protein versus plant protein: What’s the difference? (no date) WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/diet/difference-between-animal-protein-plant-protein (Accessed: 06 October 2023).
- The case for plant based (no date) UCLA Sustainability. Available at: https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/food-systems/the-case-for-plant-based/ (Accessed: 06 October 2023).