The Reality Of Plant-Based Meats: Good Food Or 'Gobbledygook'?

Chicken, mince, salami, sausages, salmon -- name a meat and there's a plant-based version -- but how do we know which of the fake options are actually good for us?

The plant-based 'mock meat' industry is firing up as the number of Australians switch to vegetarian or vegan diets.

Twelve per cent of the population (2.5 million) claimed they follow some variation of a vegetarian diet in 2018, according to Roy Morgan research, up two per cent since 2012.

Making the switch to a plant-based diet was made a lot easier in 2019 with an influx of meat alternatives on supermarket shelves and in restaurants.

Alternative meats were 'in' in 2019. Image: 10 daily

While factories are churning out plant-based products to meet rising 'no meat' demands, dieticians have warned that 'plant-based' doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a solid serve of vegetables or its 'healthy'.

"There's a huge and growing range of plant-based meats; chicken, fish ... what's really important for consumers to know is there is a huge discrepancy in the products," Sydney based dietician Susie Burrell told 10 daily.

"Some of the older style (fake) mince and chicken products are fortified and nutritionally complete but every brand is different," she said.

"It's the new novel foods that are coming onto the market [that consumers need to be aware of]. Things like the (fake) smoked salmon or the prawns that we haven't seen before ... when you take a closer look they are really just vegetable gums and fillers and a little bit of vegetable protein, but overall nutritionally, far from complete," Burrell claimed.

Dietician Susie Burrell says there is a big discrepancy with it comes to plant-based products. Image: 10 daily

For Burrell, vegan/vegetarian seafood alternatives are a massive sticking point.

When speaking with 10 daily, she pointed out the discrepancies in the ingredients listed for a piece of whole salmon, compared to plant-based version.

She said the real salmon provided a piece of fish rich in omega 3 and protein while the plant-based version had no omega 3, half as much protein and was full of carbohydrates and fillers.

"Claiming their products are like-chicken or like-fish is really misleading for consumers because nutritionally, they have very little, if anything, of the natural nutrients found in the natural product itself," Burrell claimed.

Burrell warned vegetarian shoppers to choose their food carefully and be familiar with the ingredients.

"If you look at an ingredient list and it's got 50 ingredients to it, it doesn't matter if it's a plant-based product it still is not an overly healthy choice," Burrell said.

Where possible, always stick to whole, natural foods. If you are a vegan, things like your tofu and your beans are going to be much better choices than buying a vegan form of smoked salmon and thinking it is a good choice for you.

Fighting the food fight

Despite the confusion, local companies are popping up across the country with the aim to provide plant-based alternatives that are made from fresh, local ingredients. 

Suzy Spoon is making products for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters are able to enjoy them too. Image: 10 daily

Suzy Spoon is among them. She launched Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher in 2012 after growing tired of "really processed" products that she said were "made of rubbish".

She now sells  15 different vegan-friendly products from sausages to salami to schnitzel, all made by close to a dozen staff and shipped around the country.

"I love supplying beautiful foods to the vegans and vegetarians because they deserve it," Spoon told 10 daily.

I also love it when a meat-eater will eat our food because it tastes delicious and they are not vegan or vegetarian, they just want nice food. That is one of the best compliments you can get.

Spoon also said it is essential to look at product ingredient lists before making a purchase.

Suzy Spoon is a vegetarian butcher who also dishes up to meat-eaters. Image: 10 daily.

"That's our point of difference, you would recognise all of the ingredients on our recipe list ... they're not numbers or fillers or binders or words that you've never heard of. They are real ingredients."

Spoon said that for some supermarkets and larger companies, it's about "pumping out products really cheap", with a goal to "make a lot of money from vegans".

"Their focus doesn't seem to be on flavour or nutrition and that's not what we're about. There's a market for that stuff and it's super but it's definitely not what we try and do," she said.

Spoon calls her business a 'kitchen' not a 'factory'. Image: 10 daily

Spoon has urged Australian's to shop around when it comes to plant-based foods and educate themselves on the new products on shelves.

"Look at the label and read the words. And if it's all gobbledygook and you don't even think those things are food, well they're probably not real food," she claimed.

As Australian farmers grapple with drought, bushfires and flooding, Spoon is predicting the price of meat will become very expensive and has called on the plant-based industry as a whole to "lift our game" to ensure it is prepared for another influx in demand for alternatives.