Consumers can purchase many plant-based foods and/or alternatives, such as plant-based meat and dairy, beans, legumes, oils, nuts, seeds etc. People who have transitioned from regular to vegetarian or vegan diets often purchase meat and dairy substitutes like vegan-friendly beef, pork, bacon, mince, chicken, sausages, cheese, cream and much more. According to data from the Google search engine, the search for “vegan food near me” in 2021 leapt 5,000% with continuous upward trends.
Plant-based meats are entirely composed of plants and minerals; commonly soybeans, peas, sunflower and coconut oil, wheat, water, zinc and vitamins. As of 2022, plant-based alternatives are more expensive than animal products. However, a study of over 1,000 Americans, found plant-based diets without faux meat or dairy products were around $31 AUD ($23 USD) cheaper per week.
Are plant-based alternatives healthy?
According to Healthline, “The Impossible [Foods] Burger contains the same amount of protein as 80% lean ground beef and is lower in calories and total fat.” The plant-based option is also high in minerals and vitamins including folate, thiamine, B12 and iron. Yet, the Impossible Foods burger has greater amounts of salt. Other sources like WebMD suggest that plant-based meats are significantly healthier. A researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health states, “switching from ground beef to a plant-based ground beef alternative product can be a healthier choice in some ways.”
A study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition placed multiple participants on a near 100% plant-based alternative diet for 6 weeks and compared the health effects to ‘carnists‘. The study found that the plant-based participants had far lower cholesterol and significantly lower levels of Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) which – when high – can cause cardiovascular disease.
The Medical Journal of Australia states, “consumption of plant proteins rather than animal proteins by vegetarians may contribute to their reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease” and that a “vegetarian diet can easily meet human dietary protein requirements.”
According to the WHO, processed meats are classified as a group 1 carcinogen (the worst possible ranking) alongside asbestos and tobacco. Common red meats have been classed as group 2 carcinogens with links to dangerous diseases. Even if some plant-based meats are higher in salt perhaps, at least they’re not classified as carcinogenic or linked to chronic disease.
But plant-based substitutes are processed…
Meat lovers often use this as their prime excuse for disregarding plant-based substitutes. According to the Department of Agriculture, any food that has been cut, washed, packaged, cooked, heated, pasteurised, mixed, dried, dehydrated, frozen or milled is considered “processed”. Virtually everything. As for meats, this includes anything that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked, improved preservation or enhanced through added flavours according to the WHO.
ScienceDaily conducted a nationwide analysis of processed foods in the United States from 2000 to 2012, tracking 157,142 households by collecting data on family food purchasing. The study found “highly processed food and beverage purchases by U.S. households remained stable at 61.0 to 62.5 percent.”
Whilst in Australia from 2011 to 2012, 35.4% of food consumed was considered minimally processed, 6.8% processed culinary ingredients, 15.8% processed and 42.0% from the ultra-processed food group.
In the United Kingdom (UK), 50.7% of diets consist of “ultra-processed foods.”
Criticising plant-based meats/dairy for being processed seems quite hypocritical when so much of our food already is. Dr Matthew Nagra, a naturopathic doctor from Canada says that ‘mock meats’ are still healthy because of their lower saturated fats and cholesterol as well as the significant concentrations of fibre.
Plant-based alternatives provide greater health benefits than animal meat and dairy products, with the data and scientific research suggesting these dietary substitutes should be the least of our processed food worries.
Consumer approval of vegan/vegetarian foods:
In 2022, 6% of Americans are vegan with a 500% increase since 2014. For Veganuary’s 2021 challenge, there was a 25% increase in participants compared to a year ago. American retail sales of plant-based foods also rose by 11% from 2018 to 2019. Whilst in the UK, there’s been a 400% increase in veganism with 3.25% of people under the age of 15 “never eat[ing] meat of any form as part of their diet.” As of 2022, 10% of Australians have adopted a plant-based diet, with only 21% of Germans now eating meat daily. Additionally, 1.4 billion Chinese people have been advised by the government to reduce all meat consumption by 50%.
Plant-based foods and alternatives are booming in popularity right across the globe. In the United States, 2 in 3 people have reported trying plant-based meats, and Australian supermarkets are now offering over 250 meat alternatives. The CEO of Food Frontier says the plant-based meats category has seen a 46% sales growth in retail. The University of Adelaide found 19.8% of Australians were consciously reducing meat consumption and that 55% of vegetarians and vegans had adopted their diet within the past 5 years.
According to Statista, people across 9 European countries were surveyed on dietary habits; of which, 81% of respondents said they had consumed plant-based products. In 2018, 5% of Europeans were vegetarian with the least meat consumption most common in Italy and the UK. In 2020, 22.9% of Europeans were classed as “flexitarians“. Of the flexitarians, over 50% could imagine going vegetarian.
What are ‘blue zones’ and their diets?
Blue zones are areas around the world where the population lives far longer than average. As of 2022, there are 5 blue zones including:
|Loma Linda, California||United States|
According to the Blue Zones website, people typically live over the age of 100 (compared to the global average of 73). But what’s their diet?
The Blue Zone Food Guildines suggests eating very little meat, dairy, fish and sugar, eliminating eggs, introducing daily doses of beans and nuts, eating sourdough bread and whole foods and drinking mostly water. The website recommends only eating meat and dairy a few times a month in very small quantities, only consuming 28 grams of sugar per day, snacking on 1 to 2 handfuls of nuts daily, and eating plenty of beans and very few processed foods.
Particularly noteworthy is the advised “95-100% plant-based” diet highlighted in the food guidelines.
Blue Zone Food guideline comments
The Adventist Health Study 2, which has been following 96,000 Americans since 2002, has found that the people who lived the longest were vegans or pesco vegetarians.Blue Zone Food guidelines
Research suggests that 30-year-old vegetarian adventists will likely outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as many as eight years.Blue Zone Food guidelines
Plant-based disease defence:
Plant-based diets have been linked to a decrease in diseases and possible conditions in the long term. Foods such as broccolini, kale and cabbage can reduce colorectal, lung and stomach cancer. This doesn’t mean eating a piece of pork and placing a kale leaf on top will suffice, but rather, making a conscious effort to eliminate meat consumption and focusing on the greens. MayoClinic states, “cancer prevention is all about plants. That means lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes, and little to no meat or other animal products.” According to researchers that tracked 70,000 people throughout the United States, those that ate no meat had far lower risks of developing cancer. MayoClinic says those that classify as vegan have the lowest cancer risk of all; second place: vegetarian. The National Library of Medicine states, “eating plant-based foods to achieve a healthful diet has been associated with a reduced cancer risk.” Many people believe cancer is a genetic complication when in fact, genetic cancer is only responsible for between 5 – 10%. The rest may be prevented through how we treat our bodies.
One review found that consuming just 3.5 ounces of red meat a day “raised the relative risk of colorectal polyps by 2%” and just 1.75 ounces of deli meat such as “hot dogs — raised the risk by 29%.”
Besides cancer, a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by 52%. The Journal of the American Medical Heart Association says, “diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.” Following 4,946 adults aged between 18 and 30 for 32 years, the research found diets high in nutritionally-rich plant foods and very minimal meat reduced the likelihood of developing heart disease. Another study tracking females at an average age of 62 eating plant-based foods, concluded the development of cardiovascular disease was 11% less likely. A study conducted by Dr Esselstyn found 99.4% of those that adopted a plant-based diet were able to avoid a major heart complication. In the United States, 1 person every 36 seconds dies from heart disease, making it the largest killer throughout the country.
Imagine the many trillions that could be saved if people were better exposed to the scientific literature of modern nutrition.
Dr Alan Goldhamer states, “we took 174 consecutive patients with high blood pressure and 174 were able to lower their blood pressure, enough to eliminate the need for medication.” From Dr Michael Gregor, when looking at “multiple sclerosis, the best results ever achieved compared to any medical, surgical, any kind of intervention was a plant-based diet.”
Sleep, exercise and environmental factors must also be taken into consideration, but when in the kitchen, we all have the ability to enhance our health status.
How to reduce meat & dairy consumption:
Chef Laurine Wickett says one of the best ways to reduce meat consumption is by finding other central ingredients that aren’t meat. A reason so many people eat meat daily is from the mindset that meat is the heart of a meal: it’s a question of what meat and then finding ingredients to help encompass the gem. If we can find healthy, tasty meals that perhaps still include but don’t focus on meat, then it becomes significantly easier to generate new meals where meat and dairy aren’t needed. Laurine Wickett purchases a single chicken breast for her family, stretching the entire week in chicken tacos, soup, pasta bolognese and cauliflower steak.
Finding alternatives such as plant-based meats, tofu and tempeh can act as a second strategy for minimalising meat consumption. Suddenly, bolognese could be made with Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods and traditional chicken tacos could be instead filled with tofu or jackfruit. Today, most supermarkets have plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, from milk and cheese to beef and bacon, to name a few.
Another approach is to find whole food options to replace meat and/or dairy. An example, cauliflower steak which can be made from thick slices of cauliflower, seasoned with species/herbs and cooked on a barbeque, grill or pan. Other natural foods that provide similar textures and tastes include beans, shiitake mushrooms, lentils and jackfruit.
How much is the plant-based market worth?
According to Statista, as of 2022, the plant-based market is valued at $59.1 billion AUD ($44.2 billion USD) and is predicted to increase to $104 billion AUD ($77.8 billion USD) by 2025. Nils-Gerrit Wunsch states, “[the] forecast projects that by 2030 the market will have more than doubled.” As for the vegan food market, in 2021 the industry was valued at $21.4 billion AUD ($16 billion USD) with a projected increase to $29.4 billion AUD ($22 billion USD) by 2025. Bloomberg states, “plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030.”
Given our knowledge regarding environmental damage, animal welfare, health, and even social justice associated with meat and dairy consumption, it’s about time the world transitioned to a modernised food system. A system that could rid the world of drugs to combat heart disease, save many billions of animals and greatly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Documentaries like The Game Changers perfectly illustrate the profound benefits, and more and more celebrities are beginning to embrace veganism.
It’s about time we – Homo Sapiens – start feeding ourselves with the food we were anatomically designed for – plants.