Plant-based foods are more popular than ever, but they still have a long way to go. The healthier plant-based protein options tend to lack when it comes to flavor, while the more tasty meat alternatives have been criticized as heavily processed and full of unhealthy ingredients like saturated fats and sodium. Given the environment and possible health benefits that come with plant-based proteins, scientists are working to make them both tasty and healthier.
Many people have expressed willingness to try plant-based alternatives to traditionally animal-based protein sources like meat. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have driven interest in these food options, with things like the Impossible Burger promising a more realistic meat-like experience compared to the less savory alternatives like bean burgers.
Making plant-based protein foods is tricky, though, and that’s where food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst come in. The team has received funds from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as from the Good Food Institute, to explore the science behind healthier, tastier, and more sustainable plant-based proteins.
There are many considerations when it comes to making plant-based proteins, including fortifying them with the necessary micronutrients like zinc and calcium, as well as ensuring they offer all of the essential amino acids people need. Though these plant-based foods may be ultra-processed, the researchers say they don’t need to be unhealthy.
UMass Amherst food scientist David Julian McClements explained:
We’re trying to make processed food healthier. We aim to design them to have all the vitamins and minerals you need and have health-promoting components like dietary fiber and phytochemicals so that they taste good and they’re convenient and they’re cheap and you can easily incorporate them into your life. That’s the goal in the future, but we’re not there yet for most products.