In this file:
· Dan Murphy: Tarnishing the ‘Health Halo’
· Why food industry must safeguard positive health message of plant-based protein
Dan Murphy: Tarnishing the ‘Health Halo’
Plant-based burgers may not be as healthy as advertised
Dan Murphy, Opinion, FarmJournal' Pork
September 19, 2019
The entrepreneurs behind the current wave of alt-meat products are not only skilled in formulation science, they’re proving to be adept at telling consumers what they want to hear.
Lately, I’m feeling the effects of faux food fatigue.
It seems that every other column I compose ends up taking aim at various implausible or outrageous claims made by the alt-meat manufacturers and their media shills. But that’s because the media are constantly salivating over the latest launch of some new plant-based concoction.
Typically, those stories feature some investment analyst earning lucrative commissions from pretending to predict stock prices crowing about the fantastic profits projected for an alt-meat introduction and/or a vegan activist touting our glorious future when livestock disappear from the Earth and we all find happiness subsisting on factory-fresh formulations of plant protein ingredients.
I can’t let any of that go unchallenged.
Worst of all is the notion that not only will these manufactured foods solve the climate crisis — without any economic disruption to animal agriculture worldwide, supposedly — but the world’s population will become oh-so much healthier as a result of living on a diet of factory foods.
That (alleged) positive effect from switching from natural meat, poultry and dairy to faux food analogs has been labeled the “health halo,” meaning that shelling out for alt-meat products will not only improve an individual’s health status but will result in all sorts of ancillary benefits to one’s well-being.
To summarize: Eating meat from an animal, as humans have done for about 300,000 years without health consequences is horrific and will ultimately destroy people’s health. However, eating manufactured products concocted in a test tube and utilizing artificial ingredients that have never existed in Nature is just super fantastic and should be embraced without question.
Sorry … no sale.
The promise of placebos
Finally, a few voices are stating the obvious: We shouldn’t be rushing to canonize the health status of alt-meat products — not until their supposed miraculous health benefits are documented.
Simply stated, the alt-meat category doesn’t deserve a health halo.
For example: A University of Washington nutritionist took aim at such claims, albeit with a soft-as-silk comment that wildly understated the dietary reality of faux foods.
They certainly provide "a wonderful placebo effect as a healthy alternative to beef,” Judy Simon, UW Medicine dietician, told Seattle news station KIRO-7, noting, however, that they’re “not nearly as healthy as advertised; these non-meat burgers are really fairly processed and they’re quite expensive.”
I have to say that “placebo effect” is quite insightful as a description of the effect proponents claim they experience when consuming these non-meat analogs. As numerous research experiments have confirmed, if people are told by someone in authority that they will experience specific sensory effects from consuming certain foods — consider how a celebrity chef describes a culinary creation to a group of fawning diners — or that they will feel specific symptom relief from swallowing what is described as a powerful prescription medicine, they respond accordingly.
Even the wave of TV ads for Impossible Burger, as an example, depict people universally claiming that they are totally fooled by the taste, flavor and mouthfeel of the shamburger they’re wolfing down on camera.
The only thing missing is a takeoff on the tagline, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Beef.”
Plus, let’s not forget that the heme molecule, which is what alt-meat manufacturers love to claim is the reason their products fool consumers into believing they’re eating real beef is made from genetically engineered yeast.
And here I thought GMOs were downright deadly, to the point that food products made from ingredients derived from crops grown from genetically engineered seeds need to display big, bold labeling on the package warning us of the danger lurking inside.
Guess it doesn’t matter if the GMO ingredients are used in manufacturing a vegetarian product...
Why food industry must safeguard positive health message of plant-based protein
By Ben Cooper, Just-Food
18 September 2019
As the plant-based meat and dairy markets explode, Ben Cooper sets out why food companies must ensure products deliver on nutritional value.
Replacing meat with plant-based protein is incontestably beneficial to human health but that is not to say every plant-based alternative can be considered "healthy".
In an ideal world, this would be so but, if the world were perfect everybody would already have perfect diets which, as food industry executives are all too often reminded, they do not.
Achieving the now often coined environmental and health "win-win" of dramatically reducing livestock farming for the sake of the planet and meat consumption for the sake of our health depends on the food industry successfully converting plant-based protein from niche market to mainstream food category.
Health considerations drive growth
The recent strong growth in plant-based protein alternatives to meat and dairy shows this evolution is underway and market research identifies health factors as an important driver of consumer uptake.
"When it comes to plant-based foods, consumers are primarily motivated by flavour and taste and health and wellness," says Dr Sarah Marion, director of syndicated research at US research firm Hartman Group. "Animal welfare and sustainability play an important role, but are secondary factors for most current consumers of meat and dairy alternatives."
In a Hartman Group survey, 33% of consumers cited liking the taste as the most important motivation for buying plant-based meat alternatives. Seeking more variety in the diet was cited by 25% of respondents while health and wellness attributes, such as low fat or salt, or avoiding ingredients found in meat products they perceive as unhealthy, such as antibiotics and hormones, were the most important factor for 24% of the poll. Animal welfare and environmental motivations were a lower priority registering 18% and 16% respectively.
The precise balance between these factors may vary between markets and by demographic but health and wellness will be a consistently significant driver. Moreover, Dr Marion adds while consumer adoption of plant-based products typically rests on health considerations and liking the taste, health is particularly important in triggering initial trial.
By extension, health is a particularly strong motivation for the important "flexitarian" market. Growing numbers of consumers looking only to cut down on meat have been a major factor in the growth of the plant-based protein sector.
Low-meat consumers, including flexitarians, now represent 22% of the global population according to the GlobalData 2018 Q4 global consumer survey. Veganism has been growing too but vegetarianism and veganism combined only represent 4% of the population in Europe versus 19% for those following a low-meat diet, and 7% versus 16% in North America.
The generally strong awareness of the health benefits of plant-based protein represents a powerful advantage for the sector. However, if the claims are debatable the consumer is not only short-changed nutritionally but, as has been seen before when ethical or health claims are revealed as exaggerated or false, resulting bad publicity risks tarnishing an entire category.
Primary areas of concern
Concern and debate regarding the nutritional value of plant-based protein products has centred primarily on levels of salt and fat. Research into salt levels in the UK and most recently in Australia has revealed high levels of sodium in many plant-based meat alternatives, while the new generation of meat analogues, led by the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, has been criticised for high levels of salt and fat. Meanwhile, there are concerns over the nutritional value of some plant-based dairy alternatives, particularly with regard to child nutrition.
Impossible Foods' use of soy leghemoglobin to mimic crucial meat characteristics has also been a subject of intense scrutiny and controversy even though it has been certified as "generally recognised as safe" (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The creation and development of new novel ingredients of this kind is likely to lead to further health debates as the plant-based protein sector grows and innovation continues.
As processed food products, particularly as they aim to adapt how a food group is consumed and what it can provide to consumers, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy may be exposed to the criticism of being over-processed. Meanwhile, the use of multiple ingredients to make the necessary adaptations possible may also lead to "clean label" issues. These issues can clearly be seen in the debate surrounding the Impossible Burger and are likely to remain concerns plant-based protein manufacturers will have to respond to.
Regarding salt levels, a report published earlier this month in Australia by the George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation, revealed high levels of salt in plant-based meat substitutes, mirroring similar findings in a report from pressure group Action on Salt in the UK a year ago. Analysing salt levels in some 560 meat alternatives between 2010 and 2019, the Australian study found meat-free bacon had the highest average salt content at 2g per 100g, more than a third of the recommended daily intake, followed by meat-free sausages with 1.3g per 100g.
The organisations behind the report are lobbying government to set sodium reduction targets for meat alternatives but are critical of the food sector for failing to make progress. There has been a 153% increase in the number of meat-free alternative products from 2010 to 2019, the report states, and no reduction in average sodium content over that time.
While the report shows average sodium levels for meat-free sausages, burgers and bacon are all lower than their meat equivalents, Clare Farrand, senior public health nutritionist at the George Institute and the report's lead author, says the variation in salt content within the plant-based category is more significant. "What is most important is that some manufacturers are producing these products with much less salt so there's no need for there to be that much salt in the product in the first place. If some manufacturers, can do it, others can do the same."
Nevertheless, Farrand welcomes the new product activity in the plant-based protein area and acknowledges its contribution in shifting diets away from meat, a view shared by Mhairi Brown, nutrition policy coordinator at Action on Salt. "It is great that the market is expanding but in general what we're seeing is that salt levels aren't low enough to class them as healthy products," Brown says.
Plant-based foods as "gateway foods" ...
A "health halo" ...
The future - life in the mainstream ...