The Future of Protein

Protein. If you’re not a personal trainer, marathon runner or vegan, you probably don’t spend much time worrying about it. The Future Proteins Summit, held recently in London, was an eye-opening day showcasing cutting edge research aimed at driving innovation and discussion around the topic – but why should we be interested in the first place?

Protein is Essential

Protein forms the structural basis for the majority of body tissues, provides energy and supports strength and endurance. In short, we need protein to stay fit, healthy and active, and most of us already eat enough of it.

The average female RDA (recommended dietary allowance) is 48g of protein a day. If you consider that 4oz (113g) of fish provides over half of this allowance, you realise that a lot of us are probably consuming more than we really need. On top of that, in a Western diet, the majority of our protein comes from animal products – meat, fish and dairy – which is fine for our bodies, but not such great news for the planet.

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What’s the Problem?

The inconvenient truth of the matter is that the meat and dairy industries are one of the biggest drivers of pollution and climate change. As countries like China grow wealthier and adopt more of a Western diet, the demand for meat looks set to soar, putting further strain on the environment.

When we produce meat, we’re using up valuable land and crops to rear and feed animals – yet only a certain portion of the global population can afford to buy the end product. The effect is that we’re not only aggravating the ecosystem, we’re also driving inequality – especially given climate change has been shown to disproportionately affect the world’s poorest countries.

What are the Future Protein Alternatives?

Let’s be honest – meat is popular because it’s nourishing, it’s delicious and it’s often pretty cheap. But there’s a definite gap in the market for more sustainable options – if we want them.

The Future of Proteins Summit exposed a fascinating range of ingredients and technologies that can provide us these alternatives to traditional protein sources.

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Instead of beef burgers, we could be enjoying plant-based proteins like hemp, cultured meat (grow burgers from a few animal cells replicated in a lab), insects like crickets, and meat-like substitutes made from natural ingredients such as oats and tempeh (fermented soy), some of which can be ‘spun’ into a form that mimics the structure and texture of meat for a more authentic meat-eating experience.

However the reality is complicated – as keynote speaker Tim Lang summed up, “How do we replace meat? Can we? And do we want to?” It seems that an equal, if not bigger challenge than creating these so-called ‘responsible proteins’, is marketing them in a way that encourages people to choose them over meat and fish.

New products need time and investment before they hit the mainstream – and perhaps what is really needed is to change consumer behaviour sooner rather than later. That will be a tall order, but perhaps our future depends on it.

What Can We Do Now?

In the future, lab-grown meat may be widely available and affordable, but until then the easiest and most effective thing you can do is simply to eat fewer animal products.

Maybe try having one or two meat free days per week and add some plant-based protein to your meals: beans, peas, nuts, seeds and grains like quinoa and brown rice are all good sources.

Why not give it a go and let us know how you get on?