What are the health advantages of plant-based proteins versus animal-based proteins?

What are the health advantages of plant-based proteins versus animal-based proteins?

By Genevieve Engleman

Years ago, many of us only knew a few people who claimed to be vegetarians, and even fewer who lived by the even more stringent lifestyle of a vegan. It seemed to be a slow-growing phenomenon; but now with major fast food companies such as Burger King and White Castle offering their iconic burgers with entirely plant-based patty options, more and more people are asking themselves, should I go meatless

Economic market trends of plant-based proteins:

American retail sales of plant-based foods have increased 11% from 2018 to 2019, achieving a market value of $4.5 billion.

Much to the dairy industry’s dismay, the global plant milk market size was worth over USD $8 billion in 2016 and will surpass 10 billion liters by 2024. Global per capita liquid milk consumption diminished by almost 23% from 2000 to 2016, while nondairy plant milk consumption increased by triple digits during the same time period. With these shifting trends, the global plant-based milk industry was expected to surpass $16 billion by 2018 in 2017. Plant-based beverages market analysis continues to forecast the global plant-based beverages industry to increase at a CAGR of more than 11% during 2019-2023.

Looking at trends in plant-based alternatives for food products, a 2019 market analysis report from Prescouter on meat alternatives cites increasing alternative meat consumption trends with an expanding population, projecting a forecast escalation in meat alternative market share from 1% in 2019 to an equivalent of 10% in 2029 from the current $1.4 trillion meat market. 

Evidence-based health findings:

Currently, 6% of US consumers describe their eating habits as vegan, which may not seem like a significant amount but is a 500% increase from just 1% in 2014. Similarly, 1.16% of Great Britain’s population (approximately 600,000 people) proudly proclaimed themselves to be vegan in 2018 — a 300% increase from 2014.

Despite the financial markets demonstrating promising gains, consumers are still left to determine if these milk substitutes are indeed healthy options and not just passing fads. Increasing health concerns, including obesity and diabetic conditions, have pushed individuals to consider making the jump from dairy to plant-based alternatives. 

With the shifting market trends, consumers are pushed toward analyzing their meat consumption in novel terms, due to the known risks of high blood cholesterol, heart conditions, and other cardiovascular diseases that have recently been attributed to red meat consumption specifically. The use of hormones and antibiotics in livestock pose unique risks to traditional meat eaters that those who opt for plant-based protein alternatives can avoid. Conversely, not all existing meat alternative products are free of negative health impacts, as a few contain higher salt levels than traditional meat, leaving the true possible health benefits remaining to be completely quantified. 

In 2018, PreScouter identified a review article published in Molecular Medicine which demonstrated how plant-based polyphenols are able to target multiple signaling pathways that contribute to the regulation of key cellular processes and potentially aid in decreasing the rate of metastasis by facilitating regulation of tumor cell proliferation, apoptosis, and differentiation, ultimately suppressing breast cancer spread by governing the micro environment of the tumor.

Number of deaths avoided as a result of meat substitution with mycoprotein across the range of price reduction and social acceptability scenarios. Source: Ritchie et al., 2018.

The table above details the potential health benefits of meat substitution concerning the total number of premature deaths prevented, broken down by social acceptability scenario and amount of price reduction from using mycoprotein. In the equal substitution case (scenario 1), the number of prevented deaths begin at zero at less than 10% price reduction, up to roughly 38,300 at 75% price reduction. At the higher price reduction amount, the number of deaths prevented varies from a base of almost 8,500 in scenario 3, to approximately 52,700 in scenario 5. In every scenario described, diet-related variables (and not weight management factors) were attributed to more than 85% of the number of deaths prevented. 

Greenhouse gas emissions savings in scenario 1, broken down by country/region and meat commodity. Annual GHG emissions savings (MtCO2e), represented as a breakdown by country or region. Source: Ritchie et al., 2018.

The diagram above illustrates the number of deaths prevented by geographical region in scenario 1; trends reflect those seen in greenhouse gas emissions reductions with significant dominance of health benefits in the United States and the EU nations. Based on these findings, the replacement of meat with meat-free proteins having specific nutritional and aesthetic similarities to meat hold established nutritional and health benefits. These findings follow nutritional recommendations of the World Cancer Research Fund, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and most national dietary recommendations to eat mostly plant-based foods, limit red meat, and avoid processed meat products.

When considering nutritional and health benefits, one must consider the demographics of the sample population and how they may impact dietary choices. The question may be raised regarding whether findings referring to improved health are obfuscated by socioeconomic status; however, knowledge of demographics such as income and education is simply not enough to analyze dietary interventions such as an increased plant-based protein diet. Rather, educational efforts must take into consideration both demographics, and more importantly, the dietary patterns of eating away from home. This will facilitate development of behavioral change strategies that more inclusively analyze food choices dictated by the eating environment in combination with an individual’s personal knowledge and attitude factors related to incorporation of healthful food choices.

Mycoprotein as a meat alternative holds many additional nutritional benefits, including a decrease in blood cholesterol with frequent consumption; increased satiety in the consumption of chicken prepared within similar test meals; and decreased glycaemic response, to name a few.

How plant-based foods may reduce zoonotic diseases like COVID-19:

Each year, one in six Americans fall ill from consuming contaminated food. Eating or drinking something deemed unsafe — for example, unpasteurized (raw) milk, undercooked eggs or meat, or raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated with feces from an infected animal — are attributed to these cases. Contaminated foods like these can cause illness in people and animals, including pets.

Zoonoses, also known as zoonotic diseases, are infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites that are capable of passing between animals and humans. Alternately, phytoviruses are viruses found in plants, including fruits and vegetables, across the globe. Spillover events occur when pathogen transmission from a host population spreads to a novel host population.

World Health Organization (WHO) noted in a 2006 report the importance of efforts to control zoonotic diseases, which most often receive little attention, especially among low-income populations that rely on livestock. Recently, the WHO declared that 75% of all emerging pathogens of the past decade meet the classification of being zoonotic. Excluding the emerging zoonoses such as avian influenza H5N1 and Severe Adult Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), “the vast majority are not prioritized by health systems at national and international levels and are therefore labelled as neglected,” according to the WHO.

As long as humans continue to farm and eat animals, the risk of a global pandemic due to zoonotic diseases will continue to pose an increased threat to human health and society. Plant-based food options decrease our dependence on animals as a protein source. Altering the current global food system by exchanging animal-based products with plant-based and cultured meat options offers a solution to many of the elements that contribute to the rise of zoonotic pandemics. Decreased reliance on the use of animals as food protects biodiversity and natural habitats, and therefore reduces the chances of a novel zoonotic virus emergence.

While a plant-based diet cannot directly prevent an infection attributed to a zoonotic disease, decreasing the consumption of animal-based products can assist in preventing some degenerative diseases that put humans at an additional risk during a pandemic. Moreover, an increased shift to plant-based diets will also decrease the volume of farmed animals, and consequently, the use of antibiotics and the associated risk of multidrug resistance – which is not only a threat to global health, but also a contributing factor in the exacerbation of the intensity of a zoonotic pandemic.

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at solutions@prescouter.com.

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