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April 1, 2021updated 11 May 2021 5:44pm

Irish nutrition body questions alt-meat products’ protein content

By Andy Coyne

A quarter of processed vegetarian meat-substitutes are not a source of protein, a study in Ireland has claimed.

Research by Irish nutrition and food safety body Safefood has asserted one in four of the products, including vegetable burgers, sausages and mince are not a source of, or high in, protein.

Its research – based on alt-meat products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland – also found among those who purchase these products, one in three (34%) did so because they perceived them to be healthy or better for you.

Safefood looked at the nutritional content of 354 plant-based meat-substitute products.

Dr Catherine Conlon, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood said: “Judging by the number of plant-based meat substitute products now available, there’s clearly a market for these as alternatives to meats, such as beef or chicken. From meat-substitute burgers to sausages and mince, these are now popular choices for many people who want an alternative source of protein in their diet, or want to eat them for ethical or environmental reasons.

"However, one in four of the products we surveyed were not an adequate source of protein. When we asked people about these products, a third of people thought they were healthy or better for them. However, many of these plant-based products are simply highly processed foods - if you think about it, eating a sausage roll whether that's plant-based or meat, is still a sausage roll."

Conlon stressed that there are positives around such products. "Some are lower in fat and saturated fat than their meat equivalents while others are a source of fibre," she said.

But she cautioned: "If people are considering these as a protein replacement, I would encourage them to check the label. As more people are increasingly choosing a plant-based meat substitute in their diet, we want to understand the reasons for this and the nutritional content of these products.

"The reality is that these are processed foods and a bit of a mixed bag. If you are going to eat them, read the label and look for products that are a good source of protein and lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt."

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