Plant-based proteins are now essential to meet the newest consumer needs. There are many reasons to move away from consuming meat. And for food professionals, offering alternatives that provide an equivalent protein intake is a real challenge. But Youmeal overcomes this challenge with a structured food analysis of alternative recipes: what is the nutritional (and environmental) assessment of these substitutes? One example is the veggie burger.

Why offer vegetarian substitutes?

An observation: half of consumers in Belgium have reduced their consumption of animal protein. In France, consumption decreased by 12% in 10 years. It’s undeniable: the consumption of meat is decreasing at the same time that the number of consumer profiles is increasing.

Whether in response to videos about animal abuse in slaughterhouses or for environmental, religious, health or financial considerations, people who don’t eat meat (vegetarians, vegans, etc.) are becoming more numerous.

So the agri-food industry has started to develop vegetarian substitutes for meat. More and more products are lining supermarket shelves. But replacing the meat patty of a hamburger, for example, with a “vegetable meat” patty isn’t that easy.

The challenges facing alternatives and plant proteins

The main challenge for a meat substitute product is its taste. Consumers who buy a veggie burger want it to taste like the “real thing.”

And, besides taste, the veggie burger also has to have a similar texture to its meat-based equivalent. A similar texture means both mouthfeel and the modes of preparation are comparable to meat. And an appetizing result after having been cooked.

But the nutritional quality is also important. Just because people are buying products with plant-based protein doesn’t mean they’ll eat just anything. At the least, the buyer expects a sufficient protein intake.

Many companies are tackling these challenges with a wide variety of results. As usual, the consumer will test, compare and make his or her choice. With complete subjectivity.

Meat burgers vs. plant-based burgers

Using our Youmeal food analysis software, we compared the nutritional and environmental information of 3 burgers:

  1. the classic, made using beef
  2. a vegetarian version with wheat-based plant protein
  3. a vegetarian version with pea-based plant protein

The recipes for the veggie burgers were developed so that the taste and texture were similar to that of a meat burger. These plant derivatives use a compound, Swelite, that contains fiber and pea starch. This compound was developed by the company Cosucra and gives texture to the hamburger.

Predictable differences in nutritional quality

The Youmeal software results sheet gives comprehensive dietary information with a nutritional and environmental score for each of the 3 burgers.

protéine végétale animale comparaison  protéine végétale pois  protéine végétale blé

The meat burger:

  • had a few more calories
  • twice as much fat
  • six times more saturated fatty acids
  • a little more protein than the meatless options

In terms of micronutrients, ground beef is unbeatable in the measure of vitamin B12 (practically only found in meat) and iron. This is why doctors and nutritionists recommend that non-meat eaters take supplements, available at the local pharmacy, for both iron and vitamin B12, a vitamin that is essential for our bodies.

The results for the two plant-based burgers are very similar to each other. Compared to the meat-based burger, for nearly the same protein intake, they provide vitamins E, C and B1 and 10 times more fiber, but also more salt.

More favorable environmental impacts for the vegetarian option

Livestock farming is proven to have a significant environmental impact. Although, the level of this impact differs depending on whether it is for beef or chicken, for example.

The results of our comparative test show that the options with vegetable proteins outweigh the meat-based version, especially in regards to this environmental impact criterion. We had guessed as much.

The beef burger maintains a high impact level on all four criteria: water quantity, water pollution, land area and energy required. The environmental impact of the vegetable protein options is much lower: 8 times less water, 6 times less land area and 3 times less energy.

In summary: across several nutritional and environmental points, the veggie burgers used for analysis are very qualitative. In terms of taste, that’s for you to try out!

With Youmeal, offering your clients vegetarian meals that follow a nutritional balance similar to their meat-based equivalents is made easy. Want a demo? A free trial? To see our rates? Got any questions? Contact our office in Belgium or France.