The nutritional value of meat alternatives – better than you thought

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At the Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für unsere Mitwelt, we’ve published our first big study! The original title is »Ernährungsphysiologische Bewertung von konventionell und ökologisch erzeugten vegetarischen und veganen Fleisch- und Wurstalternativen«. This roughly translates into »A nutritional science review of conventional and organic vegetarian and vegan meat and sausage alternatives«.

You can download the full study here. The main results are also summarised in our article here (unfortunately, the study is only available in German). That’s why I’ll give you a quick English summary below.

Our research question

We asked the German research organisation »Institut für alternative und nachhaltige Ernährung – IFANE« (Institute for alternative and sustainable nutrition«) to conduct this study to be able to adequately compare meat alternatives with equivalent meat products. Most German studies and product tests in the past have only checked the nutritional values of meat alternatives, but did not compare them with what they are supposed to replace – actual meat products.

The design

  • The study examined 107 organic and conventional products: 80 vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives, 27 meat products.
  • The products were chosen by 11 food categories: sausages for frying, sausages for boiling, nuggets, gyros, meat strips, filets, burger patties, steaks, Schnitzel, cold cuts (Lyoner) and pepperoni (Salami).
  • The main source of protein of the examined alternatives was soy, followed by gluten, lupine, egg, milk, pea, rice and combinations of these.
  • The study looked at different ingredients and nutrients: protein, energy (kcal) and fat content, the amount of saturated fats, sugar and salt, as well as the use of additives and flavouring agents.

Main results

  • Overall: Meat alternatives score better in a lot of nutritionally important sections and can be a healthier alternative especially when directly replaced for meat. Yeah!
  • Saturated fats: 63 % of the examined alternatives were labelled with »good«, only 10 % had to high amounts. Almost two thirds of the meat products had to many saturated fats, and only 12 % had preferable levels.
  • Protein: In seven of eleven product categories, vegan organic meat alternatives had the highest protein content – higher than meat products. Take that sceptics!
  • Additives and flavouring agents: Organically produced meat alternatives do not contain flavouring and the examined products actually contained less additives on average per products than meat products. But: conventional meat alternatives score less favourable. So more work to do here!
  • Energy & fat: In most categories, vegan products contain a little less energy and fat than meat products. But almost all products have medium or high calorie contents. The amount of fat, saturated fats, sugar and salt was evaluated with the »multiple traffic light« system (red for high, yellow for medium, green for low content). Vegan and vegetarian products mostly got a yellow rating concerning their fat content. More than half of the meat products got a red rating. In general, the study recommends products with green ratings – fair enough!
  • Salt: Alternatives and meat products contained too much salt and almost all products were labelled with a red rating. Reducing salt contents is the way to go!

Why an external institute?

We wanted to make sure that the study is conducted in a scientific, objective and trustworthy way. IFANE has been working with us for years and is an expert in sustainable diets, nutrition research and vegan-vegetarian topics.

Questions?

If you have any nutritional and content-related questions, feel free to contact the authors Judith Huber and Dr. Markus Keller of IFANE. For general inquiries feel free to get in touch with me :) I’m so glad we finally have a study that looks at these aspects of meat alternatives. Looking forward to see more scientific work about this in the future!


Photo credit | Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für unsere Mitwelt

Source | Huber J, Keller M (2017): Ernährungsphysiologische Bewertung von konventionell und ökologisch erzeugten vegetarischen und veganen Fleisch- und Wurstalternativen. Studie im Auftrag der Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für unsere Mitwelt, Berlin.

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