Health benefits are one of the leading reasons why individuals choose to incorporate plant-based products into their diets. Consumers look forward to the high fibre content they often find in plant-based products, as well as the often low levels of saturated fats. Plant-based products’ health benefits, however, have the potential to reach even further.
With plant-based ingredient innovation happening throughout the country, there’s an increased opportunity to not only increase the nutritional profiles of new products, but also to bring them to a point where their benefits extend beyond the individual. This stems from the fact that such diets have the potential to lower chronic disease risk, a benefit that ripples out to affect healthcare costs.
“We're so emotionally attached to food; we generally look at a diet or a food and its benefits to the individual,” Protein Industries Canada Director of the Centre for Regulatory Research and Innovation Chris Marinangeli said. “There's certainly a broader effect and a societal effect to this. There's been some analysis done in Canada previously looking at pulse consumption on reduction in cardio-metabolic disease risk and associated healthcare costs, enhancing fibre consumption on healthcare costs. And there's been some other work at traditionally plant-based dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet on healthcare costs. So I think there's certainly a societal benefit that that impacts us all.”
The connection between plant-based products’ individual diet benefits and those that ripple out to affect wider society is becoming more widely recognized. For example, plant protein now holds a more significant entry in Canada’s Food Guide than it did in the past, where it’s placed in the same category as meat and dairy.
This, said Pulse Canada’s Vice President of Market Innovation Julianne Curran, is a positive step forward for plant proteins, as well as one that’s relatively unique for Canada to take.
“Canada’s Food Guide recommendations are to choose plant protein foods more often,” she explained. “Aside from protein, both animal and plant-protein foods provide both shortfall nutrients of concern — i.e. vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, fibre — as well as nutrients to limit — i.e. saturated fat, sodium, added sugars. Consuming a diverse diet with a range of protein food sources provides opportunities to better balance nutrient intakes.”
Such health and nutritional benefits are considered an accomplishment for plant-based companies, but they also see future potential in the area. Increasing protein content is a particular area of focus, as is reducing areas of concern such as sodium, sugar and fat. While consumer demands are some of the most important factors for companies to consider when making such adjustments, Marinangeli also cautions them to take future regulatory changes into account.
“Understand the regulatory structure of the jurisdiction to which you're marketing your product,” he said. “A good example of that is in 2026 the Government of Canada is going to be enforcing with front-of-pack labelling regulations. So if you're designing a food now, or formulating a food now … you would likely want to make sure that you are aligned with the front-of-pack labelling guidelines for added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. So it's not only important to understand the current situation, but also understand the future.”
As consumers increasingly add plant-based products as additions to their diets, the sector is in the midst of a unique opportunity. Through healthier individuals, reduced disease rates and reduced healthcare costs, innovative plant-based products have the potential to help create a healthier Canada.
Director of the Centre for Regulatory Research and Innovation
Protein Industries Canada
Vice President of Market Innovation