Characterized by a taste, appearance, as well as texture similar to meat-based foods, meat substitutes are low in fat and calories, rich in vegetable protein, and thus, recommended due to their health advantages. Traditionally, the main ingredient in meat alternatives has been tofu, with its earliest known reference dating back to 965 CE in China, in addition to yuba, wheat gluten, nuts, and tempeh. As per Inkwood Research’s analysis, the global meat substitute market is estimated to progress with a CAGR of 14.00% during the forecast period of 2023 to 2032.
A ‘Meat-Less’ Reality – How Advantageous Are Meat Substitutes for Human Health?
The health benefits of reducing meat consumption and including meat substitutes in the diet are significant. From higher fiber and lower saturated fat content to positive environmental outcomes and dietary diversity, the advantages of meat substitutes for human health have played a pivotal role in increasing their adoption and consumption globally.
For starters, meat substitutes serve the following important purposes –
- Minimized Meat Consumption: Meat alternatives help meat eaters to minimize or completely eliminate meat from their diet on account of various reasons – for instance, upon the recommendation of a cardiologist before or after heart surgery.
- Social Inclusion: Meat alternatives serve as an occasional ‘comfort food’ for long-time vegetarians, such as tofu or miso soup instead of chicken soup during flu season. Meatless turkey, also known as ‘Tofurky,’ also makes it easier for vegans as well as vegetarians to blend in during festivals like Thanksgiving. Additionally, as per a One Poll Study, 68% of participants said that they would be willing to swap meat for plant-based alternatives if they tasted the same as meat.
- Health & Environmental Benefits: The majority of individuals who become vegetarians cite reasons associated with health, concern for the environment, and the protection of animals. Moreover, meat consumption also doubles greenhouse emissions compared with vegetarian diets. Meat alternatives or substitutes, in this regard, make it easier to transition to veganism or vegetarianism, while aiding the maintenance of a plant-based lifestyle.
And on that note, let’s take a closer look at the advantages of meat substitutes with regard to human health –
Reduced Risk of Animal-Related Diseases –
- Animals in industrial farming are stressed and crowded, placing them at an increased risk of illness. In order to combat this, animals are given a low dose of antibiotics. However, the routine usage of these drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also termed ‘superbugs’, that can be transmitted to humans.
- With antimicrobial resistance on the rise globally – annually, over 1 million deaths are directly associated with AMR – intensive animal production is a high-risk factor for the emergence as well as the spread of pandemics and zoonotic diseases.
Hence, in addition to restructuring the food system and making it more efficient, the adoption of plant-based meat alternatives can also protect humans from zoonoses, characterized as diseases transmitted between animals and humans.
Lower Probability of Chronic Conditions –
- As evidenced in a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants who swapped two or more servings per day of animal meat for plant-based meat for eight weeks had reduced levels of TMAO (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) and lower LDL cholesterol.
- Moreover, according to World Animal Protection, eating less meat has been found to decrease the chances of developing certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, liver disease, and lung disease.
- The World Health Organization has classified processed meats, such as sausage, bacon, and ham, as carcinogenic to humans. As per this International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) study, experts concluded that every 50 grams portion of processed meat consumed every day surges the risk of colorectal cancer by approximately 18%.
- The Global Burden of Disease Project estimated that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat. Although eating red meat has not yet been established as a cause of cancer, the Global Burden of Disease Project has evaluated that diets high in red meat could be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths annually worldwide.
Meat substitutes possess the remarkable advantage of being low in calories as well as fat, subsequently decreasing the likelihood of obesity as well as other serious conditions. This is mainly accredited to the fact that they are made from plant-derived ingredients, inherently low in fat. As a result, the reduced consumption of meat, coupled with the adoption of meat substitutes to make up for the nutrient loss, can play an essential role in lowering the likelihood of chronic diseases in humans.
Latest Developments in the Meat Substitute Market | Exploring the Ambient Format
Although plant-based food products have continued to witness undisputable adoption over recent years, the majority of the growth has been focused on frozen meat substitutes.
Inkwood Research anticipates that the frozen category is set to observe significant growth during the forecast years of 2023 to 2032.
A far less-explored sector in this regard has been in the dry form, ambient space. Leading players such as Thoughtful Food (Singapore) believe that this format could be the answer to resolving various challenges associated with convenience and versatility that the frozen segment is struggling to overcome. As per Food Navigator Asia, plant-based meat in a dry, ambient format could provide the meat substitute industry with cleaner as well as more convenient options that can, in turn, also provide longer shelf-life and stability. While there are certain disadvantages, such as high prices, it is conceivable that meat substitutes will likely become less expensive as research and development initiatives progress when scalability is no longer an issue.
Furthermore, while plant-based meat is primarily sold in Western nations, studies suggest that Asian countries are set to become a potential market over the upcoming years on account of the rising interest in meat substitutes. The currently lower acceptance rate of alternative meat foods in Asia can be accredited to food neophobia; however, as per A Survey of Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China, the acceptance of new foods are likely to increase over time, as consumers become more familiar with alternative proteins. Hence, these factors are set to provide the global meat substitute market with lucrative growth prospects during the forecast period.
Are meat substitutes healthier than meat?
Meat substitutes can be a healthier alternative to meat since they typically comprise less saturated fat and cholesterol, in addition to a higher content of fiber and nutrients compared to meat. However, meat substitutes may contain lower levels of several nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and zinc, commonly found in regular animal-derived meat.
What are some common meat substitutes?
Common meat substitutes include tofu, tempeh, seitan, plant-based burgers, sausages, textured vegetable protein (TVP), and others. As per Inkwood Research, the textured vegetable protein (TVP)-based segment is set to dominate the product type category in the global meat substitute market by 2032.