The nutritional value of ready-to-use meat alternatives in Belgium

A recent Nutrients study compares the nutrient content of ready-to-use meat alternatives with real meat products.

Study: Analysis of the Nutritional Composition of Ready-to-Use Meat Alternatives in Belgium. Image Credit: Antonina Vlasova /

The numerous benefits of a plant-based diet

Recently, many people around the world have expressed interest in meat alternatives due to religious, ecological, ethical, or health reasons. Most of the adult population in Belgium eats vegetarian food at least once a week, with one recent study reporting that the number of Belgians who eat meat and fish every day is gradually declining.

Some of the environmental effects associated with the production of animal-based food include approximately 25% of global greenhouse (GHG) emissions, deforestation and significant amounts of land and water requirements. Many studies have highlighted that higher consumption of plant-based foods and reduced intake of animal-based protein sources can have a positive impact on the planet and human health.

Legumes are the most widely accepted alternative protein source to animal products, whereas insects and cultured meat are significantly less popular alternative protein sources. As compared to individuals who regularly consume animal proteins, those adhering to a healthy plant-based diet are at a significantly reduced risk of developing chronic non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type 2, chronic kidney disease, and several types of cancer.

Although many national and international programs encourage a plant-based diet, there are challenges to changing dietary behaviors, as they are often dependent on culinary traditions, taste preferences, food neophobia, and religious beliefs.

According to the Belgian Food Consumption Survey, the Flemish population consumes less than four grams of vegetarian products, including unprocessed or minimally processed vegetarian products like tofu, and more processed ready-to-use meat alternatives, such as vegetarian/vegan minced meat and vegetarian/vegan burgers.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, a 24% increase in the sale of ready-to-use meat was reported in Belgium. More consumers are attracted to ready-to-use meat alternatives due to their similarities in taste, texture, mouthfeel, and appearance.

Amidst the increase in the popularity of these products among consumers, it is important to understand their nutrient quality. Currently, many of these products are considered ultra-processed by the NOVA classification.

About the study

The current study assessed the nutritional composition of commercially available ready-to-use meat alternatives in the Belgian market and compared their macro- and micronutrient profiles with those of real meat products.

A database of all uncooked and unprepared ready-to-use meat alternatives sold in Belgian supermarkets, as well as their nutritional composition and price, was developed between May and December 2022. The current study considered all vegetarian and vegan fresh/frozen ready-to-use meat alternatives from the database.

Ready-to-use meat alternatives were classified into 13 groups, whereas meat products were categorized into 10 groups based on their names and characteristic features. The nutritional composition, price, Nutriscore, and Ecoscore of all products were obtained and scored in a combination of letters (A to E) and color (from dark green to red).

Preferable food products with the best nutrient content were represented with dark green color, whereas red represented food products with lower nutrient value and those that should be avoided. The Ecoscore provided the ecological value of the product, in which A was considered as the most ecological and E the least ecological product.

Study findings

Based on recommended values of protein, total fat, saturated fat, and salt developed by the Belgian Professional Association of Dietitians, minced, pieces, strips, and cubes of meat are considered the most favorable food products based on their nutritional composition.

Legume burgers/falafel exhibited lower protein content, while nut/seed burgers, cheeseburgers/schnitzels, and sausages were too high in total fat content. The addition of iron or vitamin B12 to a ready-to-use meat alternative increased their norm value.

As compared to real steak, vegetarian/vegan steak was the least favorable among consumers. Comparatively, vegetarian/vegan minced meat and vegetarian/vegan bacon had the most favorable nutritional composition as compared to their animal-based counterparts.

Many vegetarian/vegan ready-to-use meat alternatives exhibited lower protein content than meat products. However, vegetarian/vegan ready-to-use meat alternatives had higher fiber and lower saturated fat content. Importantly, a high fiber diet has been associated with a reduced risk of non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal disorders.


Soy and wheat are the most common protein sources of ready-to-use meat alternatives. Based on their macronutrients and micronutrient content, vegetarian/vegan meat in different forms including minced, pieces, strips, and cubes exhibited favorable scores.

Whereas vegetarian/vegan cheeseburgers/schnitzels, burgers, nuts/seeds, and sausages contained more fat, legume burgers/falafel products were less favorable than animal protein.

Taken together, the study findings demonstrate that different types of plant-based protein diets are ideal for improving health outcomes and reducing the risk of comorbidities.

Journal reference:
  • Mertens, E., Deriemaeker, P., & Van Beneden, K. (2024). Analysis of the Nutritional Composition of Ready-to-Use Meat Alternatives in Belgium. Nutrients, 16(11); 1648. doi:10.3390/nu16111648
Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.


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