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Reasons To Improve The Number Of Alternative Proteins We Consume

The population of the world is increasing and to many people, the issue of how we ensure enough food security for everyone while also sustaining our planet and natural resources is a critical one. Fundamental to addressing the current global nutrition issue is to supply food that can guarantee delivery of adequate nutrition to those who are affected by any form of malnutrition and to the general overall population. According to FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sustainable diets result in a less environmental impact, while contributing to food security and nutrition security for future generations. In other words sustainable diets are those that respect and protect ecosystems and biodiversity next to being culturally acceptable, affordable as well as accessible, safe and healthy.

Food industry has demonstrated that it is able to quickly adapt and develop to meet the rising demand for more sustainable diets. This trend is particularly evident in the increasing demand for alternatives to protein, which are now becoming accessible to consumers, even though they are within the Global North rather than Global South. This new technology responds to the globally growing demand of protein and could alleviate some of the burdens placed for the global food industry. However, do these products satisfy the demand for higher quality (i.e. healthier, more nutritious) food items and assist us to achieve global food security?

Key messages

– The increasing demand for protein has led to rapid innovations led from the industry of food, like alternative protein sources, where the nutrition content can still improve.

There are many alternatives to protein sources aren’t suitable alternatives due to the fact that they are heavy in salt, deficient in key nutrients and, in most cases, highly processed.
Transparency about the nutritional content of other proteins is necessary to inform the consumer, allowing them to make educated choices.
The food industry, consumers , and nutritionists are called to dialogue to provide sustainable and nutritious alternatives to protein sources.

Alternative proteins – what are they?

Alternative protein sources include everything from algae to re-engineered legumes derived from plants and a wide range of meat substitutes. Think of lab-grown beef and plant-based meats as well as single-cell proteins made from yeast or algae, and edible insects. The market share of alternative proteins has substantially increased in the last decade (read more in our blog post Alternative Protein: What’s the deal? ), and a large selection of alternatives are available in grocery stores across in the Global North.

According to the literature on science three main factors have contributed to the increase of alternative protein consumption including animal welfare, environmental friendly, and preferences for taste. Generally, the intake of alternative proteins is generally higher among women and the well-educated. Women are also more likely to be more optimistic toward alternatives to meat or other proteins than men , due to their beliefs about health and weight regulation. Overall, meat alternatives are viewed as healthier contrasted with regular meat products. But besides the environmental and social strategies for marketing (read more on our blog post on Alternative Proteins Communication with consumers), what do we really know about alternatives to protein’s nutritional worth? How can alternative proteins be used into the new paradigm of healthy and sustainable diets for everyone across the globe?

Beyond the headlines

Alternative proteins are able to alter the food system globally in important ways. Be aware of this trend that is affecting stakeholders, their interests are growing quickly. A thorough understanding of the complete alternative protein market and the implications for public health and nutrition is crucial for both private and public actors to fully comprehend the importance of alternative proteins within the global scenario. Sight and Life is a firm believer in the importance of understanding alternative proteins’ role Sight and Life, we value the importance of going beyond the appealing ecological (Save the plant, Earth Day every day) and health (cholesterol-free plant-based) statements commonly associated with these products. We also strive to understand the science and nutritional benefits of this emerging trend.

This blog will look at the nutritional composition of five well-known alternatives to protein consumed by people in the Global North and compare them against their “natural” counterparts.

Nutrient content

Most consumers quickly glance at the nutrition label and typically look at the energy content or calories of the item. The energy content of alternatives to protein we looked at were found to be approximately equal to that of their natural counterparts. However, because the energy content of a product has virtually nothing to do its nutritional content A deeper investigation of its nutritional value is necessary.


We looked at the sodium (or salt) content – expressed in Daily Value % (DV) as per the U.S Food and Drugs Administration – of alternative protein products as compared to their natural counterparts. As shown in Figure 1, the same portion size of alternative protein as its natural counterparts contain different DV percentage of sodium. In reality, the alternative protein products exceed the DV percent of their natural counterpart. It is remarkable how much sodium found in the Chicken Chunks from The Vegetarian Butcher. One portion size of the vegetarian chicken chunks provides almost one quarter of your daily sodium intake, while chicken usually has 4% DV. In other words, the consumption of a portion of the vegetarian Chicken Chunks leads to the intake of 1,36 grams salt, out of the five gram daily recommended by World Health Organization. Evidence from science suggests that large intake of salt is considered to be one of the main risks to death from a diet all over the world and is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, the results from these five items are no the only one to be concerned. A study of more than 150 different plant-based products found only 4% to be low in salt.

Essential minerals: Zinc, iron, and vitamin B12

Essential nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 are not present in the majority alternative foods, with the exception in the case of Impossible Burger, which has been supplemented with these nutrients. In the vegetarian diet these nutrients are well-known and that are of interest. This subject matter has also been documented in Curtain and Grafenauer’s research. The authors found that less than a quarter (24%) of plant-based products (24%) were supplemented with vitamin B12, 20% of them with iron, and only 18% with zinc . While the fortification of other proteins may be a potential solution it is urgent need to examine fortification in the environment of bioavailability of nutrients found in plant-based foods – this remains an important , yet unexplored field as of now.

Getting a clear overview of the nutritional value of some alternative protein sources has proven to be rather difficult as the information provided online or on labels that describe the nutritional content of the product was limited. Data regarding energy (calories) macronutrients and fiber are available for all five alternatives to protein examined. The nutrition labels on The Vegetarian Butcher Chicken Chunks and Quorn Mince are devoid of information about the nutrition of important minerals (calcium, zinc) and vitamins (vitamin A D, B and complex) (Figure 2). The majority of the products did lack iron and vitamin B12 However, the lack of nutritional information on the label was troubling because alternative protein products are frequently regarded in lieu of meat, which are the natural source of iron, as are B12.

Insufficient information about nutrition on the label of other protein sources doesn’t guarantee an accurate understanding of their nutritional profile. What impact does this have on the intake of nutrients for consumers?

Ingredients and processing list

In accordance with the most recent FAO guidelines for ultra-processed food and beverages, the majority of alternatives to protein were classified as ultra-processed (Table 2). To determine whether other protein products could be classified as ultra-processed meals, ingredients lists of the products were scrutinized. Particularly, there was at minimum one specific group of ingredients or substances in the food list was enough to qualify the item as an extremely processed food. In most alternative protein products list of ingredients, we observed coloring agents, flavoring agents, thickeners ingredients, emulsifiers, and colors as well as emulsifiers. These are food classes that are characteristic of the ultra-processed food group identified in the FAO. The cricket flour was by far the most alternative of proteins that was not classified as a food item that is processed in a way that is ultra-processe. In addition, during the study of labeling, we observed that protein alternatives comprised of 21 or more ingredients – excluding the Cricket flour. It is primarily comprised of dry crickets.


The growing demand for alternative proteins has resulted in amazing and rapid innovations from within the world of foods. It’s not perfect yet however, perhaps the focus of our efforts should be on improved nutrition labeling, reformulations of nutrient content, and improved public awareness about these types of foods will help us move towards a healthy and sustainable protein supply for everyone.

Consumer guidance and regulations of the food industry developed by policymakers could ease the shift to a plant-based diet in a healthy and sustainable way. The EAT-Lancet study has been a part of this discussion by advocating for sustainability-based (plant-focused) lifestyles. As a nutrition group, we need to be mindful of the potential trade-offs as well as the potential impact on health. The consumer and their access to safe, nutritious and affordable food products should be at the heart of our work.

If we are considering the potential of alternative protein sources, we should consider their contribution to dietary diversity. Because access to healthy foods is directly related to diversity in diet and diversity, there shouldn’t be an exception for alternative protein sources. Promoting diversity in diet is essential to ensure healthy and sustainable diets since it is an indicator of the quality of a diet. Issues related to dietary diversity accessibility are common in both the Global North (food desert, food swamps, food deserts) as well as that of the Global South.

When we talk about alternative protein sources We must be aware of the numerous and varied needs in the global market for animal-derived protein. In the Global North, it is recommended to cut down on the intake of these food items since it has been found to be a risk factor for several health conditions related to diet. On the other hand, a higher consumption of animal-based foods is usually recommended in the Global South. Animal-based products remain a great source of essential minerals and vitamins, and the consumption of these products has been proven to be substantially associated with the reduction of stunting. So, it was discovered that replacing meat with alternative protein products isn’t always appropriate for all conditions.

In addition, they should have access to healthy foods and be educated and guided by clear, realistic and current food-based diet guidelines. They should be aware of how to choose an appropriate choice from the countless possibilities and, in the context of alternatives to protein sources they should be aware that ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian or even “plant-based” doesn’t necessarily represent a healthier option. Finally, the discussion around the nutritional effects of different proteins must be integrated into the wider discussion on diet diversification. There is no ‘one size is all’ solution, and the discussion must be adapted to the specific conditions and nutritional needs of different groups.