Unconventional Yet Nutritious: Protein Alternatives for the Growing Population
With 10 billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by 2050, the need to find alternative sources of high value protein is getting more and more urgent. Cattle and poultry are quite difficult to grow, which determines its high price and failure to supply everyone with nutritious meals. As the population is growing, researches are striving to find unconventional protein types that can make a good substitute for meat protein.
One of the notorious alternatives is insect food. While very popular in Asia, grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms are likely to fail to become the choice of those living in Europe and the USA. Despite the far-from-being-delicious look, the amount of protein found in insects is significant, so they can be an important source of nutritious compounds to be used in meals. For instance, there is mealworm and cricket flour used to bake bread. Although such exotic dishes are not widespread yet (though the trend is heading to Europe), the need for strict industry supervision is already evident: to make insect food safe, inspections and insect breeding are required. It may take years until people can make themselves eat such creatures, but if famine strikes, this kind of food may come in handy.
Another alternative, which is way more realistic, is soy. Soy beans have long been used as a primary source of protein in Asia, and soy protein is as nutritious as animal protein. The value of soy gets even more evident as it is reported to lower blood pressure and reduce plasma lipid profiles. However, more research is still needed to prove it can be consumed in large amounts and has all the advantages it is associated with according to preliminary studies. This kind of protein can be a nice substitution for milk, meat and other products, especially in countries where access to the original versions of food is limited. Protein powders are already widely used by athletes.
Aquaculture is thriving, as the natural resources are limited, and there is not enough wild fish for everyone. Though many companies use lakes and oceans to farm fish, such an approach raises concerns and is making way for tank fish farming. Fish is known for being rich in nutrients, and this kind of food can be a valuable source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Still, aquaculture has its problems too: the species used in tank-based farming have to be easy to grow, and not all fish species are beneficial for all kinds of people. For instance, tilapia, on the farming of which China and many other countries are focused, has an improper omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid ratio, which makes it a species that must not be eaten in excess.
One of the most extravagant alternative ways to supply the growing population with enough protein-rich food is to grow meat in laboratories. This approach, which is definitely innovative, is far from being implemented soon, but it can become a cheap and easy way to get enough beef and poultry for those who lack protein. Lab-grown meat can also benefit the environment, because growing cattle is a thing which is associated with significant pollution. However, it may take dozens of years till the clinical trials prove eating meat having a laboratory origin is safe. Until that time, lab loins will be unavailable.