Plant-based foods are healthier and more sustainable than animal-based products, study finds

Photo (c) Natalia Gdovskaia - Getty Images

Incorporating more plant-based alternatives can be beneficial in several ways

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Bath explored some of the benefits of eating more plant-based food options. Rather than sticking to traditional meat, the team says consumers who adopt a plant-based diet are more likely to improve their health and the environment. 

“Increasingly we’re seeing how plant-based products are able to shift demand away from animal products by appealing to three essential elements consumers want: taste, price, and convenience,” said researcher Dr. Chris Bryant.

“This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence that, as well as being far more sustainable compared to animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land use, plant-based product alternatives also have a wide range of health benefits.” 

Benefits of plant-based foods

The researchers analyzed more than 40 earlier studies that looked at the ways plant-based alternatives affect consumers’ health and the environment and compared those results to outcomes from animal-based food products. Ultimately, plant-based foods outperformed animal-based products in every category.

Nutritionally, the researchers found that plant-based foods provide more benefits to consumers’ diets because producers of plant-based foods can actually incorporate more nutrients into their products. Plant-based options were also found to be more effective than animal products at improving muscle mass and losing weight.

The report highlighted that while 40% of animal-based foods were found to be generally unhealthy, just 14% of plant-based products were considered to be the same.

Plant-based options also showed better environmental results. When directly comparing plant-based burgers with beef burgers, the former produced 98% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The production of plant-based foods is also more sustainable in terms of both land use and water use when compared to animal meat products. 

The researchers say it's important for plant-based products to be made more attractive to consumers in terms of taste, price, and nutrition.

“Despite the incredible advances that plant-based producers have made over recent years, there is still huge potential to improve their taste, texture, and how they cook,” Dr. Bryant said. “There’s also enormous potential to innovate with ingredients and processes to improve their nutritional properties – for example by boosting vitamin content.” 

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