Meat-alternative products : nutrient composition and food label quality

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Fernandez, Mele Kealoha
vegetarian; USDA database; meat-alternative products
thesis / dissertation description
Many people are choosing vegetarian options, however, the USDA database has limited data on meat-alternative options making it difficult to accurately estimate nutrient intake. To evaluate the nutrient composition accuracy presented on plant-based, meatalternative food labels, 40 different meat-alternative products were purchased for chemical analysis of protein, lipid, fiber, minerals and moisture using AOAC methods. These products were selected from a survey of 245 meat-alternative products identified in Honolulu markets, and were chosen based on their protein content, food form, and manufacturer. Results showed discrepancies between analytical data and product label values identifying more than 75% (n=31) of analyzed products non-compliant with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act 80%-120% tolerance limits for 1 to 4 label values. Energy and protein label values were relatively consistent with analyzed values for all forty products (correlation coefficient of 0.95 and 0.96 respectively). Energy and protein label values were also most frequently within NLEA regulations (36 and 39 products respectively). In contrast, about 45% (n =18) of total fat label values were out of compliance (understated by 0.7 g to 9.1 g). Analyzed values for mineral content found both under and over stated label values. Iron content in products ranged from 5.8 mg (32% DV) less than label, to 3.8 mg (21% DV) more than label; calcium 158 mg (16% DV) less than label to 153 mg (15% DV) more than label; and sodium 310 mg less than label to 180 mg more than stated on label. Values for iron, calcium, and sodium were out of compliance for 25%, 30 % and 7.5% of labels respectively. Many of these meatalternative convenience foods provide more calories from fat than the labels indicate and contain unpredictable amounts of iron and calcium. With the recognition of nutrition's importance to health, unreliable nutrient label information creates challenges for food purchasing decisions and for professionals assessing nutrient intake.