Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products: Review

A new paper published in the journal Future Foods concludes that plant-based meat and dairy alternatives offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution when compared with the animal products they are designed to replace (University of Bath, 2022).

The review analyzed the results of 43 studies. In completing the review, the author evaluated the environmental and health impact of plant-based foods. The researcher also looked at consumer attitudes, including how people felt about eating meat substitutes. For example, “One study found that almost 90% of consumers who ate plant-based meat and dairy were in fact meat-eaters or flexitarians; another found that plant-based products with a similar taste, texture, and price to processed meat had the best chance of replacing meat” (Bryant, 2022).

In this review, Bryant (2022) observed that plant-based animal product alternatives are generally preferable to animal products from an environmental perspective in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, and noted that they do not contribute to the growing global health threats of antibiotic resistance or pandemic risk. In terms of energy use, swapping out meat for plant-based alternatives uses a similar or lesser amount of energy.

From a nutritional perspective, the author reported that, “Overall, the literature supports the view that plant-based animal product alternatives, compared to animal products, have lower levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, but may have less or less bioavailable protein, iron, and B12″ (Bryant, 2022). He further noted that some plant-based animal product alternatives contain high levels of salt, but they also tend to be higher in fiber and a range of micronutrients than animal products.

“In summary, PBAPAs [plant-based animal product alternatives] tend to have favorable nutritional profiles compared to animal products, tend to perform relatively well for weight loss and muscle synthesis, and can be formulated to cater to specific health conditions. They can also provide cholesterol-lowering benefits and have benefits for gut health. Research to improve the healthiness of PBAPAs [plant-based animal product alternatives] has identified ingredients and processes to optimize protein and fiber content, improve vitamin content, and reduce antinutrient content. Further such research should address ways to increase protein, iron, and Vitamin B12 content while reducing salt content.”

Based on these results, the author concluded that plant-based animal product alternatives offer a healthier and more environmentally sustainable solution compared to animal products, which considers consumer preferences and behavior. He also stated that, “with further developments in processing and formulation, plant-based animal product alternatives have the potential to improve their nutritional profile even further, as well as improving across other metrics such as taste, texture, price, cooking properties, and sustainability. Additional research funding is of paramount importance to making these potential improvements a reality, and also to test early indications that these products offer health benefits when compared to their traditional counterparts.” (Bryant, 2022).

In another recent review published by Bunge et al. (2022), it is noted that, “the literature on PBAs [plant-based alternatives] sustainability is widespread, but there is a need to study the performance and implications of the growing market of seafood analogues. More analyses should should also be conducted comparing PBAs against other alternatives such as tofu or insects to determine the most sustainable protein and fat alternatives.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has put together a guide to assist consumers in choosing plant-based meat alternatives based on their nutritional value. You can download a detailed chart with their “Best Bites” and “Honorable Mentions” plant-based meats at:

CSPI’s “11 Step-Guide” in choosing plant-based meats includes the following:

1. Pay attention to protein.

Typically, your plant meat is replacing beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or seafood. Look for our Best Bites. They have at least 10 grams of protein per serving (5 grams for breakfast sausages and bacon, which have smaller servings). Getting your protein elsewhere? Honorable Mentions have no protein minimum.

2. Think of your heart.

Most vegetable oils like sunflower and canola are high in healthy unsaturated fats. Too bad many newer plant meats are drenched in coconut or palm oil. Both are richer in saturated fats. We capped Best Bites and Honorable Mentions at 2½ grams of sat fat per serving (1 gram for breakfast meats).

3. Spare the sodium.

It’s tough to make tasty plant meat without a little help from salt. So Best Bites and Honorable Mentions aren’t exactly low in sodium. But our limits—no more than 400 milligrams (250 mg for breakfast meats)—weed out the worst offenders. That’s one more reason to load the rest of your plate with vegetables. Their potassium helps lower blood pressure.

4. Heads up for allergens.

If you need to avoid gluten, skip wheat meats like Field Roast and No Evil. Got peanut allergies? Mind your peas. “Peas are legumes,” notes Beyond Meat. “People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy.” (Beyond contains pea protein.)

5. Check for “vegan.”

If you want to skip not just meat but dairy and eggs, look for “vegan” on the label. “Veggie” isn’t enough, since some contain egg whites or cheese.

6. Watch Quorn.

Some people report reactions—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally hives or difficulty breathing—after eating Quorn. Products made from Quorn’s “mycoprotein” (a processed fungi) have been sold in the U.S. since 2002. With so many other options, we didn’t consider the brand for Best Bites or Honorable Mentions.

7. Shop around.

We found plant-based meats sold alongside ground beef, chicken tenders, fresh vegetables, tofu, frozen foods, you name it. Most stores don’t stock them all in one place.

Tip: Check the label to see if you can thaw that frozen package in the fridge (so it cooks faster) or toss uncooked leftovers in the freezer.

8. Hold on to your wallet.

Pound for pound, Beyond and Impossible can cost roughly twice as much as beef. Buying them “ground” instead of in 4 oz. patties saves a couple of bucks. And with ground, you can make smaller patties, which lowers the sat fat per serving.

Or mix 4 oz. of minced raw mushrooms into a 16 oz. pack of ground Beyond Meat. That stretches it to five or six burgers. (To keep the delicate patties intact, freeze them for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking them on the stovetop, not the grill.)

9. Keep in mind that Impossible & Beyond aren’t beans.

Alas, the most meat-like plant meats also come closest to beef healthwise. You’re better off eating largely unprocessed beans, nuts, tofu, or tempeh.

10. Hack the menu.

At many restaurants, hefty white-flour buns, sauces, and (sometimes) cheese or fries push Beyond and Impossible burgers into 1,000-calorie territory.

The Cheesecake Factory’s Impossible Burger, for example, hits 930 calories and nearly a full day’s worth of sodium (2,090 mg)…before you tack on a side of salad, fries (530 calories), etc. The chain’s SkinnyLicious version with a side salad has 560 calories and less sodium (1,520 mg).

No light menu? Go cheeseless. To cut refined carbs, get a lettuce wrap instead of a bun and a salad instead of fries.

11. Try, try, try again.

Impossible or Beyond? Gardein or Morningstar? Whether you’re shopping for burgers, meatballs, chick’n, or veggie bacon, here’s what to look for…plus some of our tasters’ favorite Best Bites, Honorable Mentions, and near misses.

Veggie burgers 2.0: Impossible, Beyond, and beyond…

Who makes a better-for-you burger: Beyond Meat or Impossible?

The short answer: Beyond.

Beyond vs. Impossible: Both have too much saturated fat (from coconut oil) for Best Bites, though the Beyond Burger has been slowly dialing it down. A 4 oz. patty has 5 grams of sat fat—less than the 7 grams in a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder beef patty and the 8 grams in Impossible.

Like beef, the Impossible Burger contains heme (but from a non-meat source). Heme may help form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds in the gut, which could help explain why red-meat eaters have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. In contrast, Beyond Burgers are heme-free.

Which burgers are better than Beyond? Some Beyond copycats have replaced Beyond’s coconut oil with healthier fats.

Try Dr. Praeger’s Perfect Burger or Whole Foods 365 Plant-Based Patties. Both Best Bites are made with pea protein (like Beyond), but they use sunflower oil (Dr. Praeger) or canola oil (Whole Foods).

Source: Moyer L. Our guide to plant-based meats. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Nutrition Action, October 21, 2021. Available at:

Finally, to listen to a recent podcast about the ‘foodprint’ of the milks you may be putting in your coffee, go to:

Source: Podcast: The Foodprint of Cow’s Milk, Oat Milk and Almond Milk. October 18, 2022. Available at:


Bryant CJ, Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products. Future Foods 2022; 6:100174.

University of Bath, United Kingdom (UK). Plant-based meat ‘healthier and more sustainable than animal products’ – new study. July 29, 2022. Available at:

Bunge CA, Wood A, Halloran A, et al. A systematic scoping review of the sustainability of vertical farming, plant-based alternatives, food delivery services and blockchain in food systems. Nature Food 2022;

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: You can follow me on Instagram at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: