Posted on: July 11th, 2023

Plant-based food and plant-based beverage options are no longer limited to vegan and vegetarian diets. Even dedicated carnivores are incorporating milk and meat alternatives into their healthier lifestyle choices, driven by both health considerations and the delicious taste of these products. As a result, there has been a surge of plant-based food options in grocery stores and restaurants. However, are these new foods approved by the FDA for human consumption? Discover more about this rapidly growing category in the food industry that is challenging traditional markets.

What Types of Plant-Based Alternatives are Available?

The development of plant-based food products has primarily focused on the meat and dairy categories. Instead of traditional dairy-based milk and yogurts, alternatives made from soy, rice, and coconut are now available in various flavors and textures. In the meat category, there are plant-based alternatives to chicken, beef, and eggs that have gained significant popularity. This trend is reflected in many fast-food restaurants, which are increasingly offering plant-based alternatives alongside their traditional menus.

Are There Concerns Regarding Statements of Identity with Plant-Based Foods?

In the past, it was common to see terms like “milk” or “burger” used to describe plant-based foods and beverages. However, some of these terms have specific definitions and standards set by the USDA or FDA, which the plant-based alternatives do not meet. Therefore, it is crucial to clearly differentiate plant-based foods from their traditional counterparts using appropriate and compliant statements of identity to avoid consumer confusion.

Are Plant-Based Foods Considered Imitation Foods?

According to the FDA’s definition, a food must both resemble another food and be nutritionally the same to be considered “imitation.” If a food only resembles another food but is not nutritionally identical, it is classified as a “substitute” or “alternative” food. Plant-based foods and beverages often resemble other foods but differ nutritionally, making them substitutes or alternatives rather than true imitations.

What Should Consumers Pay Attention to on the Label?

Plant-based foods, particularly beverages, are often made from soy or coconut, which can contain allergenic components not present in meat or dairy. Additionally, they may have higher calorie or added sugar content due to the use of additional ingredients. However, plant-based foods generally have lower cholesterol and fat content. It is always advisable to carefully read the nutrition labels to understand the product’s ingredients and nutrient profile.

What Should the Plant-Based Food Industry Monitor?

As the science and technologies used in plant-based products continuously evolve, the FDA has developed several guidance documents regarding labeling and formulations for the plant food and beverage industry. The expectations for these new foods are similar to those for traditional foods, including the use of safe ingredients, proper labeling of genetically engineered (BE) disclosures when applicable, monitoring pesticide residue, accurate allergen and ingredient statements, and compliance with other food safety requirements. Federal agencies are in the process of developing programs specifically for plant-based foods, so it is important to stay informed about the regulatory status and ongoing discussions surrounding this rapidly developing category.

Research at Biofortis

Biofortis is dedicated to protecting consumer health throughout the world by delivering a wide range of testing and consultancy services to the food, supplement, and nutrition industries. Biofortis supports this mission in two ways—through clinical trials and sensory and consumer insights testing. We specialize in clinical research targeting foods, ingredients, and dietary supplements that affect body structures, function, and overall health. Contact us with any clinical trial or scientific consulting needs.


Original article posted by MĂ©rieux NutriSciences.

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