Vegan diet has been one of the biggest health trends last year. Read to find out all about it

Will plants stand the test of time?
Representative image
Representative image

Vegan diet has been one of the biggest health trends in the past year. But with the growing popularity of vegan/mock meat, many wondered if their protein needs would be met and so, plant-based protein was born. However, many looking to make the big shift have expressed apprehensions over the efficiency of plant-based protein. CE speaks to doctors and private players who share if plant-based protein fulfils the nutritional demand of the body.

N Lakshmi, senior dietician at Kamineni hospital, LB Nagar, begins by saying that there are many benefits to consuming animal protein: “Animal protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need to perform optimally. It is also a high-quality protein, meaning it contains more of the essential amino acids than plant proteins. Animal protein is also a good source of iron and vitamin B12. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body. Some of the benefits of animal protein include increased muscle mass, improved bone health, reduced inflammation and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”

Animal agriculture is already within top two contributors to each of the environmental issues we are facing today, rues Vaibhaw Dwivedi, co-founder of Hyderabad-based Urban Tiller, Asia’s first leaf protein company. “Meat is simply unsustainable. Even if we want, there is just not enough land and water for animal protein to feed 10 billion people. However, the environment is not the only reason to go plant based. Fuelled by investment across the value chain, there are multiple plant based products in the market today which successfully replicate the taste and texture of meat and dairy. The key, however, is to become aware, get started and replace a few meals with plant based products. The myth is that consumers have to compromise on taste but that is just not true anymore. It is just a matter of keeping an open mind and trying,” Vaibhaw asserts.

 Private players are more than willing to address a wide-range of demands apart from nutritional value. “Plant-based products are very close to mimicking the taste and texture of meat products. But products available today are quite far away from being an exact replica. Research into creating exact replicas is an ongoing, resource hungry process. The narrative of plant-based proteins as an alternative to meat, is a misnomer in India. In real sense, it is a copy paste of the western narrative where meat is a regular part of the daily diet and hence plant-based products come in as a replacement for meat.

In India, we are traditionally flexitarians,” observes Rethesh Kumar, head — alternate & plant-based proteins at  Hyderabad-based Symega Food Ingredients, which recently announced their foray into the plant-based protein space. “In our view, the real problems which plant-based products solve are food security and a healthier diet in the form of products we love to eat. With the abundance of raw materials like lentils and our updated manufacturing capabilities, we have a very efficient way to deliver it. Innovative product concepts will bring in the scale, where we will be in a position to offer these products at a much lower cost than meat products,” he adds. 

Dr Hari Kishan Boorugu, senior general physician, Yashoda Hospital, Somajiguda, says, “Plant proteins and animal proteins provide us with necessary amino acids. But some plant proteins do not provide all essential aminoacids but consuming a mix of plant proteins can overcome this. For muscle building, animal proteins are more helpful but studies have linked plant proteins to better cardiovascular health. Plant proteins also provide fibre and antioxidants which are good for health.” 

On a concluding note, Dr Lakshmi says, “There are many factors to consider when it comes to deciding whether plant or animal protein is healthier. Some people believe that plant-based proteins are healthier because they offer a wider variety of nutrients, while others think that animal protein is more beneficial because it contains all of the essential amino acids, so it boils down to personal choice.”

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