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How Do Alternative Proteins Compare?

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The population of the world is increasing and, to many people, the issue of how we can ensure an adequate food supply for everyone while also sustaining our environment and our natural resources is a crucial one. One of the most crucial aspects to address the global food crisis is ensuring that we provide food products that ensure the delivery sufficient nutrition to people suffering from all types of malnutrition, as well as to the people in general. As per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sustainable diets have a lower environmental footprint while contributing to food and nutrition security for our present and the future. In the same way sustainable diets must conserve and preserve ecosystems as well as biodiversity in addition to being accessible, culturally acceptable accessible, safe and healthy.

The food industry has demonstrated the capability to rapidly adjust and innovating to meet the increasing demands for sustainable and healthy diets. This can be seen in the increasing demand for alternative proteins that are now available to consumers, albeit within more of Global North rather than Global South. This is a response to the ever-growing demand for protein , and may reduce some of the burdens placed that the current food supply system faces. However, will these products provide the needed quality (i.e. better nutrition) food items and assist us to move towards global food security?

Key messages

The rising requirement for protein resulted in rapid advancements led by food companies in areas like alternative protein sources, of which the nutritional content can still improve.

There are many alternatives to protein products are less than ideal substitutes considering they are heavy in salt, deficient in some key nutrients and, in most cases, highly processed.
– Transparency regarding the nutritional contents of alternative proteins is needed to inform consumers and allow them to make informed decisions.
Policymakers, the food industry, consumers and nutritionists are called to dialogue to create sustainable and healthy alternative protein products.

Alternative proteins – What are they?

Alternative protein sources range from algae to re-engineered plant-based legumes and a variety of meat substitutes. Think of lab-grown meat as well as plant-based meats, single-cell proteins from yeast or algae, or edible insects. The market share of alternative proteins has drastically increased in the last decade (read more in our blog article Alternative Protein: What’s the issue? ), and a large range of these products can be found in the grocery stores of The Global North.

According to scientific literature Three factors have led to an increase in alternative protein consumption including animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and taste preferences. The consumption of alternative proteins are found to be higher among women and well-educated. Women have a positive outlook towards alternative or meat-based proteins than men , due to their perceptions of fitness and weight regulation. Overall, meat alternatives are thought to be healthier compared to regular meat products. However, aside from the environmental and social strategies for marketing (read more in our blog post Alternative Proteins: Speaking to consumers) What do we really know about alternative protein products’ nutritional value? What are the implications of alternative protein products in the current shift to healthy and sustainable diets for everyone across the globe?

Beyond the headlines

Alternative proteins are able to alter the global food system in important ways. Being aware of this change the stakeholder’s interests are rapidly increasing. An in-depth understanding of the entire alternative protein market and the impact it has on nutrition and health for the public is required for both public and private actors to fully understand alternative proteins’ role within the global environment. Sight and Life is a firm believer in the importance of understanding alternative proteins’ role Sight and Life, we recognize the need to go beyond the convincing environmentally-friendly (Save this plant Earth Day every day) and health (cholesterol-free and plant-based) claims that are currently associated with such products. We strive to gain a better understanding of the science behind and the nutritional benefits associated with this new trend.

This blog will dive into the nutritional value of five popular alternative protein products consumed in the Global North and compare them with their natural counterparts.

Nutrient content

Many consumers scan the nutrition label, and then focus on the energy or calories content of the product. In our study, the energy level of alternative protein products we reviewed was found to be roughly the same as their natural counterparts. However, since the energy content of a food has nothing to do with its nutritional content A deeper investigation of its nutritional value is required.


We looked into the sodium (or salt) quantity – expressed as Daily Value percent (DV) as per the U.S Food and Drugs Administration – of alternative protein products as compared to those from their native counterparts. As shown in Figure 1 in Figure 1: the same portion of alternative protein and its natural counterpart will have different DV% of sodium. In reality some of the alternative protein options are higher than the DV percentage of their natural equivalent. Astonishing is the amount of sodium of the Chicken Chunks from The Vegetarian Butcher. One portion of the vegetarian chicken chunks contains almost a quarter of your daily sodium intake, while chicken typically has at 4% of per day. That is, eating a single serving of the chicken chunks that are vegetarian Chicken Chunks leads to the intake of 1,36 g of salt out of the 5 grams daily recommended by the World Health Organization. The scientific evidence suggests that a excessive intake of salt is one of the major dietary risk factors for death across the globe and is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular illnesses. Unfortunately, the results from these five items are no the only one to be concerned. A study involving over 150 different plant-based goods found only 4% to be low in salt.

Essential minerals: Zinc, iron and vitamin B12.

Key nutrients such as zinc, iron, and vitamin B12 are missing from the majority of the other products, except for the Impossible Burger, which has been added with vitamin B12. In the vegetarian diet these are nutrients that are recognized as that are of concern. The issue has been examined in Curtain and Grafenauer’s research. The authors found there was less than one quarter of plant-based products (24 percent) were enhanced with vitamin B12, 20% of them with iron, while only 18% had zinc . While fortifying alternative proteins could be a viable solution but there is a urgent necessity to study fortification in the context of the bioavailability of substances in products made from plants – it remains an important yet unexplored area up to now.

Getting a clear overview of the actual nutritional content of some alternative protein products has proven to be a bit difficult, as the information on the internet or on the nutritional label of the product was found to be inadequate. Data on energy (calories), macronutrients, and fiber are included for each of the five protein alternatives reviewed. However, the nutritional labels for The Vegetarian Butcher Chicken Chunks and Quorn Mince don’t provide nutrition information on key minerals (calcium and zinc) as well as vitamins (vitamin A, D, and B complex) (Figure 2). The problem was that most of the items lack iron and vitamin B12 however, the absence of nutrition information on the labels was alarming because alternative protein products are frequently used in lieu of meat, which are a natural source of iron and B12.

Insufficient information about nutrition on the label of protein supplements doesn’t guarantee an accurate overview of their nutrient profile. What impact does this have on the consumption of nutrients by the consumer?

Processing and ingredient list

According to the most recent FAO guidelines for ultra-processed food the results showed that four out of five alternatives to protein were classified as such (Table 2.). To determine if alternative protein products can be defined as ultra-processed foods, the list of ingredients of the products was studied. In particular there was at least one distinct type of ingredient or food ingredients in the food list is sufficient to classify the item as an extremely processed food. In most alternative protein products list of ingredients, we observed coloring agents, flavoring agents, thickeners additions, and emulsifiers that are all part of food classes that are characteristic of the ultra-processed food category identified in the FAO. The cricket flour was by far the most alternative of proteins not being classified as an ultra-processed food. Furthermore, from the study of labeling, we observed that other protein products were composed of as many as 21 distinct ingredients – with the exception of the cricket flour which is composed of dry crickets.


The increased demand for alternative protein sources has led to amazing and rapid innovations from industries like food. It’s not perfect yet but maybe directing our efforts towards improved nutrition labeling, reformulations of the content of nutrients, and a greater consumer awareness of these kinds of products will allow us to make progress towards a healthy and sustainable supply of protein for all.

Consumer guidance and food industry regulations created by policymakers can facilitate the change to a plant-based lifestyle in a sustainable and healthy way. The EAT-Lancet study has played a role in this debate by advocating for more sustainable (plant-focused) lifestyles. But, as a nutritional community, we must be cautious of the possible trade-offs and the potential impacts on health. The consumer and their access to safe, nutritious affordable, aspirational, and cost-effective food items should be at the heart of our work.

In assessing the possibilities alternatives to protein sources, it is important to consider their role in ensuring dietary diversity. Access to and availability of healthy foods is directly related to dietary diversity, this should not be an exemption for protein sources that are not conventional. Promoting diversity in diet is crucial to ensure sustainable and nutritious diets as it provides a gauge of the quality of food. Issues related to dietary diversity accessibility are common within both Global North (food desert, food swamps) as well as those in the Global South.

When discussing alternative protein products in the discussion of alternative protein sources, it is essential to consider the numerous and varied needs for the consumption of animal-based protein around the world. If you live in the Global North, it is advised to limit the consumption of these food items since it has been proven to be the main risk factor for a variety of diet-related diseases. On the other hand, a higher consumption of animal-based foods is usually recommended for those living in the Global South. Animal-based products are a good source of vital minerals and vitamins, and the consumption of these foods has been found to be significantly associated with reducing stunting. Therefore, it emerged that replacing meat by alternative protein sources does not work in any situation.

Furthermore, consumers should have access to nutritious food and be guided by clear, realistic and current food-based dietary guidelines. They should be aware of how to identify an appropriate option among the many options available and, when it comes to the subject of protein sources that are not conventional are conscious that’vegetarian’,’vegan or “plant-based” do not necessarily equal a ‘healthy’ option. The discussion on the nutritional value of alternative protein sources should be part of the larger debate about dietary diversification. There is no one size fits all’ solution, and this debate should be adapted to the specific situation and nutritional needs of various populations.