Last month the Anaphylaxis Campaign hosted a fascinating webinar with Carole Bingley from Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL) and Hazel Gowland of Allergy Action. They looked at both plant-based and novel proteins and the risk that they might pose for the allergic community.
Carole Bingley, Technical Specialist Product Innovation, RSSL
The drivers for the growth in plant based proteins, as Carole outlined, are the perception that plant based proteins are healthier than meat, concerns over the impact that heavy meat consumption has on the environment and the awareness that we are already unable to meet the protein needs of the world’s population. Hence the focus on alternative protein sources: legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, mycoproteins, algae and seaweeds and novel sources.
Many of these are already well developed and familiar to us all – vegan dairy products, meat, fish and egg alternatives have been on increasing offer for some years and continue to grow in popularity. While the escalating use of legumes, especially pea, is concerning for those sensitive to pulses, the ingredients are well recognised and normally fairly easy to identify. The situation may be more complex with novel proteins, which, currently fall into three categories.
Precision fermented proteins
These are micro-organisms genetically modified to be identical to the animal proteins that they mimic. They therefore create a protein with exactly the same functionality in all respects as the animal original – but without the using the animal.
This is obviously excellent in terms of food manufacture and, in the case of milk products, is already on the market. Perfect Day ice cream, made from precision fermented whey and casein, is already being sold around the world and undoubtedly, much more will follow.
But though this may be great both for vegans and for the environment, it is no help to those allergic to those proteins. Although the casein and whey in Perfect Day may never have been near a cow, they are identical to those produced by a cow so will cause identical reactions.
This is more encouraging for allergics as in biomass fermentation you take your microorganism and feed it with water, nutrients, vitamins and CO2 to create your protein.
Far lower risk for allergics, but still in a very early stage of development.
Cell cultured proteins
In cell culture you remove cells from a live animal and then mix them with a growth medium to create ‘meat’ but without having to grow, feed or slaughter the animals. For meat lovers this obviously provides the ideal sustainable alternative. Although this too is in the early stages of development, a cultured chicken product is already on sale in Singapore and it is suggested that by 2040 one third of the meat eaten worldwide will be cell cultured.
For food allergics, however, since the ‘parent’ cell comes from a live animal, any allergy issues they had with the animal will presumably be passed on to the ‘meat’ cultured from that cell.
Hazel Gowland, Expert Researcher and Trainer, Allergy Action
Following on from Carole’s talk, Hazel made a number of points that food sensitives, and especially food sensitive vegans, would do well to note.
- The very commendable drive to exercise more and become fitter has led to an increased need for high protein foods or protein boosts. In the wake of this a number of food sensitive people have found themselves reacting to new foods, or reacting to foods which they thought they could tolerate but in fact could not when eating those foods was combined with exercise. Exercise induced wheat allergy has been known about for some time, but extrinsic factors such as exercise would appear to trigger reactions to other foods apart from wheat.
- The 14 major allergens are known and accepted across Europe as triggers for serious allergic reactions. However, Hazel described her B list of other allergens which are almost as troublesome. These are headed up by kiwi and banana but legumes, especially pea, feature largely in her B list.
- Legumes are increasingly being used instead of wheat/gluten as manufacturing aids – coatings on chips, ingredients in breads etc.
- Dietary restrictions resulting from food hypersensitivity can affect nutritional intake – as can dietary restrictions resulting from a vegan diet. Moreover, nutrients in plant foods, and added as ‘extra nutrients, are significantly less bioavailable than those in animal foods. So food allergic vegans need to take care that their nutritional status is not comprised.
- Food isolates are ingredients that have been processed to increase their functionality. However, the process often also increases their allergenicity. Food isolates need to be risk assessed for allergy but that has not happened so food sensitives need to take scrutinise ingredients lists.
- Many vegan products include a very large number of ingredients many of which may be unfamiliar or may not be recognised as allergens. The length of the list (Hazel showed the label for one jackfruit burger which had no less than 136 ingredients) and the number of unfamiliar products included will make reading the label a major challenge for any food sensitive person.
- Vegan labelling is challenging for milk sensitives as although the foods may not have milk products as ingredients, vegan labeling does not cover contamination.
- The regulations covering ‘ice cream’ have now changed. Ice cream make from non milk products can be called ‘ice cream’ but only ice cream made from milk/dairy products can be called ‘Dairy ice cream’.
You can access the whole presentation here on the Anaphylaxis Campaign YouTube channel.