Plant-Based Protein: What are the myths?
Plant-Based Protein: What are the myths?

Plant-Based Protein: What are the myths?

By Brock Thomson
University of Saskatchewan Student

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Plant-based protein is a growing trend in the food market. Many consumers are swapping out traditional meat for a plant alternative, in which protein is taken from the plant and combined with other plant-based ingredients to create a meat-like product (Roos, 2019). However, as someone who has raised livestock and consumes meat, I wondered how this was possible. In my research into plant-based proteins, I discovered ‘facts’ were under further investigation turned out to be many myths surrounding the trend. So what are these myths?

Plant-based burger vs meat burger
A plant-based burger next to a regular beef burger. Source: Beyond Meat.
Is Plant-Based More Environmentally Sustainable?

Some consumers choose plant-based protein over animal protein as they believe the greenhouse gas emissions produced by plants are less than from animals. According to Dairy Nutrition (2019), there are a couple of reasons this may not be true. The first is that fruits and vegetables produced in greenhouses produce more greenhouse gas emissions than animal-based foods. Over 2000 hectares are used to grow greenhouse crops, which equates to a $2.5 billion industry (Dorais, et. al, 2015).  Secondly, while plants need high-quality land to grow on, animals can be placed in lower-quality land or land that cannot be used to produce crops. Cattle can be placed on this lower quality land to fight the effects of climate change. Cattle help the environment by aerating the soil with their hooves (Radke, 2014). Similarly, cattle can also increase the soil’s capacity to store carbon, as the grass and their roots take in more carbon and are healthier from being grazed by the cattle (Hind, 2018). The healthier plant can take in more carbon dioxide to store in its roots, all while feeding the cattle and helping the environment. And lastly, cattle manure can act as a natural fertilizer, which is less harmful to the environment than synthetic fertilizers.

On the other side, there are arguments that plant-based protein is indeed more environmentally sustainable. According to Dana Hunnes (2019), of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), switching to a more plant-based diet would benefit the earth, as plants require less water than animals. Cattle require between 3 to 30 gallons of water per day, and occasionally more in warmer climates, it takes a lot of water to produce beef (Rasby, 2020). Furthermore, as cattle eat a plant-based diet and the plants require water, that is an additional amount of water required to produce cattle. Hunnes also adds that global food supply could increase by up to 49% by making the switch as it requires fewer resources to produce plant-based proteins than it does to produce meat protein.

Are Plant-Based Proteins Healthier? Does it Taste like Meat?

Another reason consumers may choose plant-based protein over animal-based protein is that they see it as a healthier option. This myth grew in popularity with the emergence of plant-based protein companies, In a CBC report, Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto dietician asks where Beyond Meat found this evidence, uncovering some interesting facts that some plant-based meat (Harris, 2019). In contrast, other non-meat proteins such as tofu or beans are not heavily processed, so it is important to know which proteins are being compared. According to Harvard Health, another negative of some plant-based proteins is the fact that many processed plant-based proteins are also high in saturated fat and sodium, both of which have been attributed to heart disease (Gelsomin, 2019). This could be attributed to adding fats and salts to improve the taste and texture of the plant-based proteins.

While there are people who dispute that plant-based protein is not healthier for you, the Canadian food guide has made the effort to show consumers what non-animal sources can substitute for meat protein, such as lentils and peas. However, I don’t know which is a healthier choice, while plant-based protein companies claim they are (an excellent marketing strategy), it remains unclear if heavily processed plant-based proteins can truly be considered a healthier option.

Truths or Myths

The purpose of this blog is not to persuade you to choose animal-based protein over plant-based protein, but rather confirm or deny some of the misconceptions regarding plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins are an excellent way for vegetarians to obtain protein while following their own ethical or dietary choice of protein. It also offers a good protein source for those looking to cut back on his or her red meat consumption.  However, the evidence is not there to concretely suggest that plant-based proteins are better for you or the environment. So, I suggest, before saying plant-based proteins are better, consumers read this blog and do some additional research on the myths of plant-based proteins.

Brock T

Brock Thomson

My name is Brock Thomson and I am currently in my third year of the Agribusiness degree. My farm is located southwest of Biggar. After completing my degree, I am going to pursue a career in agriculture sales, as well as continuing my family farm.

One comment

  1. Dennis Laughton (BSc 69)

    Thanks for your fair comparison of the choices that we have in the burger market. It is the my way or nothing that bothers me. All choices are agriculture based. I will stick with real meat.

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