Pitfalls in moving towards a vegetarian or vegan diet

Study: Novel plant-based alternatives for hamburgers may contain too little fibres and minerals.
Photo Shutterstock

The production of meat replacers is a booming business, with market size expected to rise from 4.3 billion dollars in 2020 to an expected 8.3 billion dollars by 2025. Many new companies have been launched in response to growing consumer demand for plant-based diet alternatives as consumers shift towards more vegetarian and vegan options, says Professor Ciarán Forde of the Division of Human Nutrition and Health. In this new business, the emphasis is on replacing animal proteins using plant based alternatives.

In his former job at the Singapore Institute for Food and Biotechnology Innovation, Forde and his colleague Rachel Tso compared the nutrient content of traditional and new plant-based diets to a traditional animal based diet. Their conclusion in their recent article in Nutrients is that diets that comprise many new plant-based meat and dairy alternatives often contain higher levels of sugar, fat and salt and lower levels of fibres, minerals and vitamins.


Tso and Forde compared a traditional animal based diet with daily intakes across a flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diet, all three with healthy and unhealthy variants. All diets were matched for protein and energy content and were compared by the overall daily intake of important macro- and micro-nutrients consumed. Whereas traditional flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets met the requirements for micro-nutrients and protein, the diets dominated by novel plant-based meat and dairy alternatives had higher salt, sugar, fat and carbohydrate intakes, and shortfalls in important nutrients and vitamins.


Forde says that vegetarian diets can be both healthier and better for the environment than diets high in red meat, but warns that consumers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls when transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet where the omission of important nutrient sources could have health consequences. ‘Consumers aiming to become vegans need to consider the foods they are removing or adding when developing new strategies to ensure a balanced diet with enough proteins, minerals and vitamins.’ He refers in particular to ‘naive consumers who may consider labels about product sustainability as an indication of their healthfulness, which it is not.’

Forde is Professor in Sensory Science and Eating Behaviour of WUR since 1st of August and will succeed Kees de Graaf.

Also read:

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to write a comment.