Rethinking meat alternatives in the context of sustainability

Current global developments — climate change, loss of biological diversity and contamination of water resources and soils — are confronting our food system with significant challenges.

These circumstances undermine the essential natural conditions for the production of our food. At the same time, the prevailing pattern of unhealthy diets is contributing to an increase in diseases that place a significant burden on our healthcare systems. The demand for more sustainable and health-promoting food is therefore becoming increasingly urgent.

Reducing animal-based products
To counteract climate change, we must consume fewer animal products. This has led to the rise of vegetarian and vegan alternatives, whose market has already reached 12 billion euros in 2022 and is continuing to grow. These alternatives are mostly based on plant proteins and use technologies such as extrusion and 3D printing to imitate the texture of meat. Although they are good for the climate, the question is whether they are also healthy, especially because they do not contain some important nutrients or are more difficult for the body to absorb.

Objective and impact
The interdisciplinary research team led by Professor Dr.-Ing. Alexander Mathys from the Sustainable Food Processing Lab at ETH Zurich is addressing this question. The research project aims to understand how plant-based meat alternatives are composed, how their texture is produced and what effects they have on our metabolism and energy intake. These findings can help us develop methods to produce healthier meat alternatives.

Further literature

  • Multi-indicator sustainability assessment of global food systems;
    Abhishek Chaudhary, David Gustafson and Alexander Mathys; Nature Communications, vol. 9, pp. 848, London: Nature, 2018.
  • Assessing nutritional, health, and environmental sustainability dimensions of agri-food production;
    Ashley Green, Thomas Nemecek, Abhishek Chaudhary and Alexander Mathys; Global Food Security, Vol. 26, pp. 100406, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2020.
  • Socio-technical Innovation Bundles for Agri-food Systems Transformation;
    Christopher B. Barrett, Tim Benton, Jessica Fanzo, Mario Herrero, Rebecca Nelson, Edward S. Buckler, Karen A. Cooper, Isabella Culotta, Shenggen Fan, Rikin Gandhi, Steven James, Mark Kahn, Laté Lawson-Lartego, Jiali Liu, Quinn Marshall, Daniel Mason-D'Croz, Alexander Mathys, Cynthia Mathys, Veronica Mazariegos-Anastassiou, Alesha Miller, Kamakhya Misra, Andrew G. Mude, Jianbo Shen, Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Claire Song, Roy Steiner, Philip Thornton and Stephen Wood; Nature Sustainability, London: Nature, 2020.
  • Articulating the effect of food systems innovation on the sustainable development goals;
    Mario Herrero, Philip K. Thornton, Daniel Mason-D'Croz, Jeda Palmer, Benjamin L Bodirsky, Prajal Pradhan, Christopher B. Barrett, Tim G. Benton, Andrew Hall, Ilje Pikaar, Jessica R Bogard, Graham D Bonnett, Brett A Bryan, Bruce M Campbell, Svend Christensen, Michael Clark, Jessica Fanzo, Cécile M. Godde, Andy Jarvis, Ana Maria Loboguerrero, Alexander Mathys, C Lynne McIntyre, Rosamond L Naylor, Rebecca Nelson, Michael Obersteiner, Alejandro Parodi, Alexander Popp, Katie Ricketts, Pete Smith, Hugo Valin, Sonja J Vermeulen, Joost Vervoort, Mark van Wijk, Hannah H.E. van Zanten, Paul C West, Stephen A. Wood and Johan Rockström; The Lancet Planetary Health, Vol. 5: no. 1, pp. e50-e62, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2020.
  • The role of alternative proteins and future foods in sustainable and contextually-adapted flexitarian diets;
    Ashley Green, Christoph Oliver Blattmann, Canxi Chen and Alexander Mathys; Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 124, pp. 250-258, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2022.
  • Reconciling regionally explicit nutritional needs with environmental protection by means of nutritional life cycle assessment;
    Ashley Green, Thomas Nemecek, Sergiy Smetana and Alexander Mathys; Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 312, pp. 127696, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2021.
  • Extruded meat analogues based on yellow, heterotrophically cultivated Auxenochlorella protothecoides microalgae;
    Martín P. Caporgno, Lukas Böcker, Christina Müssner, Eric Stirnemann, Iris Haberkorn, Horst Adelmann, Stephan Handschin, Erich J. Windhab and Alexander Mathys; Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies, vol. 59, pp. 102275, New York, NY: Elsevier, 2019.

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Influence of alternative proteins on sustainable flexitarian diets

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