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New study may undermine health halo of plant-based foods, according to GlobalData

March 11, 2024

A study conducted by researchers from Deakin University in Australia has found large variations in the nutritional value of plant-based food, with sodium content a particular concern. In fact, the audit found that consumers could eat their entire daily recommended sodium intake in just one bowl of plant-based mince. This nutritional audit of more than 700 plant-based foods for sale in Australian supermarkets has called into question the nutritional credentials of the fast-growing market, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

“The rise of plant-based foods has, in large part, been driven by assumptions that they are more nutritious than animal-based products," stated Katrina Diamonon, Principal Analyst, Consumer team at GlobalData. "In fact, almost half of consumers globally are motivated to try plant-based food alternatives as they are perceived to be healthier.

“The results of this and similar studies are likely to cause consumers to re-evaluate their attitudes towards plant-based foods and look more closely at nutritional specifics. Significantly, consumers who are striving to improve their diets are still more inclined to be influenced by factors such as fat and salt content compared with plant-based formulations.”

A survey conducted by GlobalData found that Australian consumers are more likely to associate a healthy lifestyle with low salt products than plant-based products, highlighting the need for plant-based formulations to more closely align with consumers’ nutritional needs and expectations.

Diamonon concludes, “It is not entirely unexpected to see elevated salt levels in plant-based foods, given the importance of ensuring sensory benefits are not compromised. However, food manufacturers must explore other techniques and seasonings that can be used to achieve superior flavor and indulgence, beyond salt.

“Ultimately, the onus is on the food industry to offer increased transparency with regards to the nutritional quality of plant-based foods and take greater efforts to formulate products in line with government-issued salt reduction targets. Failing to do so will erode the health halo of plant-based foods and lead to further uncertainty, frustration, and skepticism among consumers.”

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