Eur J Nutr. 2023 Mar 3. doi: 10.1007/s00394-023-03117-9. Online ahead of print.
PURPOSE: We studied to what extent plant-based meat substitutes could improve the nutritional adequacy and healthiness of dietary patterns, depending on their nutrient composition.
METHODS: From diets observed in French adults (INCA3, n = 1125), modeled diets were identified by allowing various dietary changes, between and within food categories, when two plant-based meat substitutes were made available: an average substitute (from 43 market substitutes) and a theoretical nutritionally designed substitute, fortified or not with zinc and iron at 30% or 50% of Nutrient Reference Values. Under each scenario, healthier but acceptable modeled diets were identified using multi-criteria optimization, by maximizing a health criteria related to Dietary Guidelines while minimizing deviation from the observed diets, under constraints for nutrient adequacy.
RESULTS: Without fortification, the average substitute was hardly introduced into modeled diets, whereas the optimized substitute was preferentially introduced, in large amounts, yet together with a moderate reduction of red meat (- 20%). The comparative advantages of the optimized substitute were its higher contribution to vitamins B6 and C, fiber and α-linolenic acid (ALA) intakes, and its lower contribution to sodium intake. When fortified with iron and zinc, substitutes were introduced in larger amounts into modeled diets, with much higher red meat reductions (down to – 90%). The optimized substitute continued to be preferred, leading to healthier modeled diets that deviated less from the observed.
CONCLUSION: Plant-based meat substitutes can be levers for healthy diets only when well nutritionally designed with enough zinc and iron for a substantial red meat reduction.