Are plant-based alternatives really any better or healthier for you? 1 year ago

Are plant-based alternatives really any better or healthier for you?

You might think ditching meat for a vegan or veggie option is better for you, but is that really true?

Many people think plant-based alternatives to meat are healthier.

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However, many vegan burgers and sausages are packed with additives which go hand in hand with higher amounts of saturated fats, salt and sugar.

Researchers polled 2,000 adults to explore common misconceptions surrounding plant-based foods, such as vegan-friendly burgers, sausages and falafel.

Four in 10 people thought plant-based foods only contained natural ingredients - despite many products containing 'man-made' additives.

Plant-based burgers. (Photo: iStock)

Some additives are there to prolong shelf life and may not be 'unhealthy' as such, but if you think plant-based foods are unprocessed and a 'natural' choice, you might be mistaken.

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More than a third of people believed plant-based foods were artisan rather than highly processed. Some are made from completely natural ingredients, but many meat alternatives aren't.

When those polled were asked if they were familiar with ingredients commonly found in many plant-based foods, the vast majority struggled.

86 per cent of people had never heard of thickening agent and emulsifier, methylcellulose, which is estimated to feature in around one fifth of such food items. Similarly, 57 per cent had never heard of emulsifier and thickener, xanthan gum.

Maltodextrin (74 per cent) and calcium alginate (79 per cent), that commonly appear in plant-based products as bulking agents and stabilisers, were also unrecognisable to most people surveyed.

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Photo: iStock

The study also found 27 per cent think plant-based foods are lower in salt than other foods, and 50 per cent think they are lower in saturated fat. But this isn't always the case.

38 per cent of people thought these meat-free options always have higher levels of nutrients than other foods – which also can be far from the reality.

The study found that 68 per cent of the nation has tried plant-based food items such as tofu, plant-based sausages and burgers.

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What does the science say about these additives?

Juliette Kellow, nutrition consultant working with Gosh! says: "Additives such as stabilisers, thickeners and preservatives are tested extensively to make sure they are safe for us to consume and unlikely to damage health.

"But often, larger amounts of additives go hand-in-hand with larger amounts of fat, sugar and salt. Regularly having high intakes of these can potentially increase our risk of developing long-term health problems.

"I recommend looking at both the nutrition panel AND the ingredients list to get a clear picture of what your food contains."

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"On the nutrition side, look for products that contain mostly green and amber traffic lights (rather than red ones) for fat, saturates, sugar and salt."