One in ten Kiwis are now actively reducing or completely eliminating meat from their diet, mainly to help the environment, out of concern for animals or for their own health reasons.
Even the Heart Foundation has recently updated its guidelines, limiting red meat consumption to just 3 meals per week.
Cue the rise of products that look like meat, taste like meat, and cook like meat, without an animal in sight. But what exactly are these meat alternatives?
Meat alternatives are plant-based foods that give you a similar taste and texture experience to meat. They’re made from protein extracted from plants, usually wheat, pea or soy.
Life Health Foods is a plant-based food company and owner of Alternative Meat Co. which makes “grown not bred” meat alternative mince, sausages and burgers packed with protein from plant ingredients. These products are designed to help people looking to cut back on the amount of meat they eat and for the increasing number of people following a 'flexitarian’ lifestyle.
Sanitarium Dietitian Angela Saunders takes a look at the most common questions.
Are they better for the planet?
The production of plant-based foods requires less intensive farming, which has a smaller impact on the environment, with significantly less water required and none of the methane emissions associated with livestock – 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock and their by-product.
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation, land degradation, biodiversity loss and habitat clearing worldwide. There is also increasing concerns that industrial meat production could have a negative impact on natural resources like rivers, streams and drinking water, with nutrients from animal waste lagoons and runoff.
Are they really better for me?
Health is one of the main reasons people are actively reducing the amount of meat they eat each week and with good reason. Research shows people following a balanced plant-based diet are healthier and often slimmer than meat eaters. However, are these meat alternatives healthier than the real deal?
Plant-based meat alternatives are typically lower in total fat and kilojoules when compared to meat. They provide an additional source of protein without the cholesterol typically associated with meat products. To make the best choice among the ever increasing products available, look for those lower in saturated fat and sodium. When in doubt, the Health Star Rating system can help you navigate which product is best for you in each category.
When eaten occasionally along with a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds they add convenience, variety and new flavours to the vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat alternative products are not a replacement for the whole food plant proteins you’re already eating such as legumes, soy and nuts. However, if you want to have the occasional meal that has a similar taste and texture of meat, without eating animals, then that’s where meat alternatives are a great addition to the menu.
With World Vegetarian Day fast-approaching (1 October), why not try swapping out your regular meat dishes with a meat alternative instead? These dishes will soon become family-favourites that may even trick the biggest meat lover:
Simple vegan sausage pizza
Classic vegan nachos