For more than half of Europeans, plant substitutes are ultra-processed foods

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    A majority of Europeans avoid plant-based alternatives because they view them as ultra-processed foods

    Although they are aware of the harmful effects of consuming ultra-processed foods on their health, Europeans do not put all products in the same basket. They know how to make a gap for chips, but not for pea or soy pancakes.

    Vegan substitutes likened to ultra-processed foods

    Dates in vegan spread, seaweed and salmon to replace meat in Chinese dumplings, jackfruit to prepare a meaty imitation of a country pâté… During the last International Innovation Fair food in Paris (SIAL), we saw a whole bunch of new plant-based recipes which all had the same objective: improving the flavor of these alternatives to meat. Many of these new foods also tried to convince by promising fewer additives, colorings and other chemical additions.

    For plant-based substitutes to truly enter Europeans' menus, brands would undoubtedly need to focus more on this second axis. Because 36% of consumers on the old continent consider vegan chicken pieces to be ultra-processed foods, as do 34% regarding vromage (the vegan version of cheese), reveals the latest report from the EIT Food Consumer Observatory.

    Consumers are more careful about plant-based alternatives

    Europeans eat chips, ready-made dishes with sauce or even sweets, so why wouldn't they eat these plant-based alternatives which are no longer allowed to be referred to in France as steaks since the publication of a decree prohibiting the use of terms related to meat? This is the paradox revealed by this large-scale survey carried out among more than 10,000 consumers in 17 European countries.

    If 55% of them eat ultra-processed foods at least once a week, the same proportion (54%) admit to avoiding meat substitutes, not for their taste but because they classify them in the category ultra-processed products. This reality is all the more striking as it concerns 53% of consumers who have no dietary restrictions (religious or medical).

    …but less on “pleasure foods”

    Europeans are in fact perfectly aware of the harmful consequences of consuming ultra-processed foods on their health: for 65%, these are unhealthy, and for 67%, they contribute to obesity, diabetes and other medical problems. Their composition also made the headlines a few weeks ago during the publication of a study carried out jointly by Inrae and Inserm. Based on a sample of 92,000 French people, this research revealed possible links between the ingestion of certain emulsifying food additives and an increased risk of developing cancers, particularly breast and prostate.

    However, 15% of Dutch people consume ultra-processed foods every day, as do 12% of Irish and British people, 9% of Germans and 7% of French people. In other words, the Europeans concerned know how to strain to eat chips, but not to choose a pea pancake. To understand this choice, we must take a closer look at the composition of the former: their recipe is in fact designed to send signals of pleasure to our brain, in particular through lactic and citric acids which make us salivate.

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