Flexitarians are meat eaters who have decided because of ethical and health concerns to reduce their meat intake and significantly increase their plant based protein. They believe that their meat free choices are healthier, ethical, sustainable and more environmentally friendly that the traditional meat based meals.
They are right about plant based protein being more sustainable because it is suggested that a 1000 tonnes of raw material for manufacturing could be produced from a four square metre room in just a month.
To produce 1000 tonnes of meat would take quite a few animals and much in the way of water, land and other resources. It would also take significantly longer than just a month.
A bioreactor is a piece of equipment which is used to produce some forms of plant based proteins and these have been found to absorb significantly more carbon dioxide as part of the process than the same space filled with trees
So plant based protein is certainly more environmentally friendly and therefore obviously more sustainable.
Sources of plant based protein include; fungi, marine microalgae, yeasts, plants, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
There are many examples now starting to appear in our quick serve chains and supermarkets and this sector of the food industry is rapidly becoming mainstream.
Although the burgers, sausages, schnitzels, mince etc are vegan, are they products that Vegans want to eat? These products are not being developed for that market, as the main focus on the product development has been on the taste and texture and making them seem “meaty”. These are products that are very much designed to replace meat in diets.
So is the nutrition of the plant based protein products a match for the real thing?
Meat contains amino acids that may not be found in plant based proteins. However with some work and specific processes, the nutrient levels, and particularly the protein content and types of amino acids, of plant based protein products can be improved to a matching level and include all nine of the amino acids required by our bodies to construct muscle.
One aspect that flexitarians need to consider in their choice of plant based protein products is the allergy potential from the wheat and soy which are often used in the formulas.
There has been an increasing call for only mammalian milk to be called milk, and almond, rice etc milks to be called something else. The same is going to be an issue with the plant based protein – is it meat or isn’t? Can something be called a sausage or burger if it does not contain any animal protein?