Protein is on the rise, but not as you know it…
Updated: May 12
The narrative of humanity would not be complete without the story of food. All cultures across the globe possess unique attitudes and rituals surrounding its consumption. Just take a glance at any nation’s renowned dish and you will gain insight into its food culture. Britain is famed for its fish and chips. Germany is synonymous with Bratwurst, and let’s not forget those Aussies chucking all those ‘shrimps on the barbie!’ Yes, these might be stereotypes, but they are ultimately reflective of the kinds of food populations have traditionally prepared and enjoyed.
What then unites these clichéd, yet delicious meals originating from across the continents?
The defining component of each of these dishes is the protein source. Yet, you can’t venture far down a bustling metropolitan street without seeing many ethical alternatives to meat-based protein sources. Meat is still present on the menus at your local restaurant, but ultimately, society’s attitudes are changing.
More than ever, there is a hype surrounding the ‘p-word.’ A growing obsession with health and fitness, derived from greater education in schools, the rise of social media, government funding, and rising disposable incomes, has inspired a generation to start pumping that iron and take a long hard look down at what’s on their plate.
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Smashing your fitness goals and consuming a high protein diet go hand in hand, due to its countless benefits! To keep things simple, we’ve narrowed these down below.
Protein has the highest thermic effect of all the macronutrients, which means your body uses the most calories to digest it.
It helps build and maintain lean muscle mass.
It boosts your metabolism and burns more fat.
It produces hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals in the body.
It keeps you fuller for longer. The dream right?
Take a stroll down your local supermarket aisles, and you will be bombarded with energy bars, yoghurt, milks, drinks, powders – even bread yelling at customers to take note of their ‘high protein’ contents. Brands and food suppliers are increasingly aware of this societal desire for protein consumption, hence their overt assurance of their products containing it.
Yes, the demand for protein is growing, but at the same time, Western society is shifting away from the consumption of traditional livestock. Rising concern about the damaging environmental impact of farming, personal health reasons, and animal welfare are critical factors contributing to an individual’s decision to shy away from meat. People are increasingly focusing upon where their food comes from and what impact their eating habits have on their planet. A third of Brits have reduced or altogether stopped their meat consumption in 2018, which is reflective of a wider international behavioural trend.
So if people are consuming more protein, but eating less meat, where are they sourcing their supply from? Let’s have a look at some of the current alternatives on the market.
Alternative Protein Sources
Alternatives have predominantly been targeted towards those who adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet. Perhaps the most well-known is soy, which is used to produce tofu and tempeh. Another contender known as Mycoprotein is grown using fungal spores in a vat. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? But don’t let the questionable sounding method put you off. The products, which often take the form of meat-like alternatives ranging from ‘chicken’ nuggets, to 'bolognese' mince, are a delicious and often low-calorie source of protein. These days, meat-alternatives are increasingly popular from people who want to reduce their meat intake generally, not just veggies and vegans.
Plant-based ‘meat’ is another alternative. Companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods create alternatives from plant-based ingredients. These products are created from peas, mung beans and rice, and are produced to resemble your standard meat product, in appearance, texture and flavour.
More radical yet is the concept of lab-grown meat. Scientists are currently developing methods of producing meat from DNA and stem cell samples in labs. The primary benefit of this concept is that it’s ‘slaughter free’ – no animal has to die for you to get your bacon sandwich! Despite this being a great option, it takes considerable effort to produce, and isn’t cheap – a small piece of steak grown from stem cells was sold in Israel last year for $50 USD.
Fungal, plant and lab-grown meat are exciting and innovative means of enjoying meat-like foods that are sustainable, healthy and tasty! But, unless you have a lab in your garden, it unlikely that you'll be able to produce them at home.
That’s why the next alternative on the menu takes the crown for us. Yes, we’re talking about insects!
The ‘Food of the Future’
Now, this might sound a little strange at first, but we can assure you it isn’t! Eating insects, also known as Entomophagy, is currently practiced by roughly 2 billion people every day. Europe is home to only 2% of the world’s edible insects – perhaps an explanation as to why the idea is still considered somewhat taboo in Europe and North America.
Learn more about Entomophagy, here.
For some of you, your only exposure to insects might have been from stumbling upon a stall of tasty fried crickets whilst visiting Thailand, but this is not just a story from a backpacker’s travel journal. Insects have long been predicted by scientists to be the ‘food of the future.’
Due to their nutritious profile and limited environmental impact, insects are a fantastic solution if you’re consciously trying to look after our planet, whilst ensuring you get all the protein, fats and nutrients needed to live a healthy lifestyle. There are close to 2000 species of edible insects worldwide, meaning that if you’re a fussy eater, the right bug is out there for you. They can be prepared in numerous ways, making them incredibly versatile – from ground up ‘flour’, to frying or roasting.
Still need convincing? Here are ten reasons why you should incorporate insects into your diet.
Insects are an ideal alternative protein source as unlike fungal, plant and lab-grown protein, consumers can effectively and affordably produce them at home. This is as long as Western society can shift their perception towards them. We do seem to be on the way, with 43% of British men under 35 declaring their interest in consuming insect-based food.
To slow the environmental destruction currently being caused to the Earth and cater for the ever-growing population, people need to change their relationship with food. So next time you’re in the meat aisle about to reach for that steak, think twice and consider what the best option is for yourself and for the world around you. It might seem tough to kick old habits, but trying something new is as easy as frying a plant-based sausage, opting for the veggie option when out for dinner, or chowing down on a tasty mealworm.
Really, it’s a win-win situation, both for us and for our planet.
by Erin Banks