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The future of plant-based proteins

It's on many people's lips and you may have even heard of it yourself: the protein transition. But what is this protein transition exactly and why is it so important?

Proteins are essential building blocks in your body. They help your body tissue recover and grow, and give you energy. There are two types of protein: animal and plant-based proteins. We get our plant-based proteins mostly from cereals, legumes, mushrooms and nuts. Meat, fish, but also milk and eggs, are sources of animal protein.

The protein transition as a climate goal

In order to reduce the world's footprint and to meet the climate targets, the protein transition is becoming increasingly important. The protein transition means that there will be - or needs to be - a shift from animal proteins to vegetable proteins. Most of the proteins consumed in the Netherlands come from animal products. The current ratio is 60% animal products and 40% vegetable products. This isn't just bad for our health, but also for our nature. More CO2 is released through the production of animal proteins than vegetable proteins. For that reason, the government has set a target to reverse the above figures: 40% animal protein and 60% plant-based protein. But the question is: how do we go about it?

"More plant-based proteins are needed in order to reduce the world's footprint and to meet the climate targets."

From animal to plant-based proteins

Of course, reducing the consumption of animal protein is easier said than done. But several companies are now taking a different approach to creating plant-based proteins. Vegetarian alternatives to meat have been making great strides in recent years. Companies such as the Vegetarian Butcher and Vivera are getting closer and closer in perfecting vegetarian burgers and other meat substitutes. The problem with a lot of meat substitutes, though, is that they aren't always vegan. This means that some animal proteins, like milk and eggs, are still needed to produce these meat substitutes. Replacing animal-based products is proving to be a huge challenge.

"Perhaps the most challenging part of this transition is convincing the customer."

However, more and more companies are entering the market with plant-based proteins. Some great examples are companies that use water lentils, better known as duckweed, to create proteins and gels that can be used as a replacement of animal-based products. In addition to water lentils, pioneers in the field are looking at the application of algae and insects in foods. These high-protein sources are being perfected and have already reached the point that consumers won't be able to taste the difference.

Convincing the consumer

Perhaps the most challenging part of this transition is convincing the consumer. Resistance to these new sources of protein such as algae and insects is still very strong among the majority of consumers. We really need to ask ourselves whether it is not time to acknowledge and accept the fact that the way we currently get our proteins is not the only way. Now is when we need to think about the future of the earth.

I personally believe that alternative sources of protein (i.e. not animal-based) are the future. Last week I spoke to someone who thinks we should stop trying to teach people to eat new foods, but instead ‘repackage’ the tastes we know and love. He might have a good point there and it's going to be a tough assignment to get people used to the idea of eating duckweed or insects. So, for the time being at least, it's better to try to increase the intake of plant-based proteins that are already available That's not to say that the diet of the future will look completely different.

What are your thoughts? How do you see the future of food that's served on our plates? Let me know by getting in touch with me! 

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