What is the nutritional impact of switching to plant-based foods that mimic animal-based meat and dairy products?

In a recent study published in Nutrients Journal, researchers estimated the nutritional implications of replacing “readily swappable” animal-based milk and meat with visibly and functionally similar plant-based foods among Australians.

Study: Impact of a switch to plant-based foods that visually and functionally mimic animal-based meat and milk on the Australian population: A dietary modeling study.  Image Credit: Chay_Tee/Shuttertsock.co

Study: Impact of a shift to plant-based foods that visually and functionally mimic animal-based meat and milk on the Australian population: A dietary modeling study. Image credit: Chay_Tee/Shutterstock.com


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said limiting the consumption of animal-based foods such as dairy and meat and increasing the intake of plant-based foods could help protect the environment.

As a result, government policies have been established to increase dietary transitions to plant-based foods. However, the documented nutritional composition of plant-based versions of foods of animal origin is based primarily on the details of the food packaging.

Therefore, data on true nutritional content, especially micronutrient composition and micronutrients, are limited.

About the studio

In the present microsimulation dietary modeling study, researchers evaluated the nutritional impact of switching to plant-based food simulations of animal-based meat and dairy products in Australia.

The computer-simulated models were equipped with dietary microdata obtained from the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS), part of the Australian Health Survey conducted from May 2011 to June 2012.

The team modeled scenarios for accelerated and conservative food substitution, replacing animal-based meat and milk with their plant-based counterparts, based on the estimated 2030 average annual intake of plant-based ‘meat’ from two forecasts from Deloitte Access Economics.

As a secondary analysis, the team explored the estimated nutritional effects of dietary transitions by age, including subgroups of young pediatric individuals (two to three years), young males (19.0 to 30.0 years), young females (age 19.0 to 30.0 years) and elderly adult individuals (≥71.0 years).

Dietary analogues were identified using eight-digit food codes. The animal meat exchange included ground beef, tenderloin, beef steak, various chicken parts, mainly pork/beef/chicken wings, breast, thighs, tenderloins, drumsticks and sausages, and the dairy milk exchange included milk Vaccine.

For the NNPAS study, dietary intake was assessed using unidentified 24-hour dietary recalls, weighted by age, gender and residency of participants, and data obtained from 12,153 randomly selected Australians aged 2 to 90 years representing the nation.

The mean dietary intake of each food was derived for the base case populations by linking the food codes (and the mean amount of dietary intake) to the respective national dietary intake nutrient profiles listed in the AUSNUT 2011-2013 database.

In the dietary replacement scenarios, foods were replaced, followed by a calculation of the mean percentage difference in consumption of key nutrients between the base case (consumption from 2011 to 2012) and the computer-modeled scenarios.

Nutrients for which ‘readily exchangeable animal meat and milk’ provided ≥5.0% of median total dietary intake for Australians aged ≥2 years were considered key nutrients.


The findings indicated that the large intake of plant-based ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ instead of animal-based originals could negatively affect the consumption of some nutrients among Australians. In particular cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12), iodine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.

Small changes were observed in the estimated dietary intake in the conservative milk and meat scenarios. However, combining the accelerated scenarios showed that theoretical intakes of sodium and iron increased markedly (by 7.0% and 15.0%, respectively), while those of iodine and cyanocobalamin decreased by 14.0%, respectively % and 19.0%.

Additionally, consumption of zinc, phosphorus, niacin, riboflavin, and omega-3 fatty acids decreased by 6.0 to 8.0 percent.

Considering the findings of the 2011-2012 NNPAS study, food consumption could be of concern due to computer-modeled decreases in nutritional intake, possibly exacerbating existing dietary insufficiency.

Examples include iodine intake among females, particularly young females, cyanocobalamin among females, omega-3 fatty acids among adults, riboflavin among the elderly, vitamin A and zinc among young males, vitamin B6 among young females, selenium and calcium among the elderly, and protein and zinc among the older males.

The accelerated-type meat intake scenario showed a theoretical consumption of 6.0% to 7.0% less niacin, cyanocobalamin and omega-3 fatty acids, while 6% and 12% more sodium and iron.

In contrast, the accelerated milk intake scenario theoretically reduced cyanocobalamin and iodine intake (by 12% and 17%, respectively), and phosphorus, calcium, and riboflavin intake by 5.0%.

There was a noteworthy estimated decrease (14%) in iodine intake among Australians, who had previously been classified as having a mild deficiency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The estimated magnitude of the reduction in cyanocobalamin consumption, relative to the accelerated scenarios, of 31% and 16% to 19% among young children and adults, respectively, compared to the average food consumption for the period 2011-2012, is concerning.

The findings are concerning, especially for older adults due to their lower cyanocobalamin uptake capacity, and for women ≥14 years of age (5.0% to 8.0% has been documented for have an insufficient intake in 2011-2012.

With an expected 80.0% of Australian adults consuming omega-3 fatty acids inadequately in 2011-2012, the estimated reduction in consumption by 6% to 10% under the accelerated meat scenario would likely result in adverse health outcomes.

Additionally, zinc intake could be of particular concern among men if animal food intake is reduced as 33% of Australian men and 67% of older males were documented to consume insufficient amounts in 2011 -12 and the fast-track scenario estimated a 6.0 to 8.0% reduction in hiring.


Based on the study findings, the estimated nutritional impact of replacing “like-for-like” animal-based milk and meat with plant-based imitation products may increase the risk of nutritional insufficiency among Australians, especially cyanocobalamin and iodine (for women), zinc (for men), and omega-3 fatty acids (for adults), in the fast-track scenario.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *