One in four (25%) processed vegetarian meat substitute products like vegetable burgers, sausages and mince are “not a source of or high in protein”, according to a new research report by safefood.

Published today (Wednesday, March 24), the research also found that among those who purchase these products, one in three (34%) did so because they “perceived them to be healthy / better for you”.

The research looked at the nutritional content of 354 plant-based meat substitute products on sale in supermarkets across the island of Ireland.

These products included plant-based alternatives such as mince, burgers and sausages, “which are positioned in a category of foods that provide protein such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts and beans”.

‘Clearly a market for these as alternatives’

Safefood notes that according to industry reports, “‘vegan‘ is the third fastest growing on-pack claim for food and drink launches globally over the last five years, with sales in the UK of meat-free foods forecasted to be in excess of €1 billion by 2024″.

Dr. Catherine Conlon, director of human health and nutrition with safefood said:

“Judging by the number of plant-based meat substitute products now available, there’s clearly a market for these as alternatives to meats, such as beef or chicken.

From meat substitute burgers to sausages and mince, these are now popular choices for many people who want an alternative source of protein in their diet, or want to eat them for ethical or environmental reasons.

“However, one in four of the products we surveyed were not an adequate source of protein. When we asked people about these products, a third of people thought they were healthy or better for them.

“However, many of these plant-based products are simply highly-processed foods – if you think about it, eating a sausage roll whether that’s plant-based or meat, is still a sausage roll.”

One-three eat plant-based meat substitutes

When asked about meat-substitute products, more than one in three adults (34%) said they ate plant-based versions of burgers, sausages, chicken or fish.

Of those who ate them, 41% said they consumed them once a week or more frequently, while 7% consumed them daily. Almost eight in 10 people (79%) who eat meat substitute products do so once a month or more often.

The top three products were meat alternative burgers (41%), mince (31%) and sausages (29%). The top three reasons for purchasing them were that they were ‘healthy or better for you’ (33%), for taste (21%) and environmental impact (15%).

“There are some positives to these products; some are lower in fat and saturated fat than their meat equivalents while others are a source of fibre,” Dr. Conlon added.

“But, if people are considering these as a protein replacement, I would encourage them to check the label.

“As more people are increasingly choosing a plant-based meat substitute in their diet, we want to understand the reasons for this and the nutritional content of these products.

The reality is that these are processed foods and a bit of a mixed bag. If you are going to eat them, read the label and look for products that are a good source of protein and lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

“There are lots of protein sources that you can choose from including meat, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu and chickpeas.”