Plant-based “Meat” Isn’t Nutritionally the Same as Meat

In recent years many people have been trying to eat less meat. The newer plant-based meats seem appealing. They mimic meat so closely that they can be great alternatives for meat-eaters who want to cut back or become come vegetarian. However, a new study has found that this faux meat is not nutritionally the same as real meat.

Whether it’s because of health or the environment, many people are looking for meat alternatives. But, many of us just don’t like traditional veggie patties. Burger patties made of vegetables were disappointing, and tofu imitations missed the mark. However, the newer meatless meat products from companies like Beyond can fool you into thinking you’re eating the real thing. They mimic the flavor, chew and bloodiness of beef so well you can con yourself into believing you’re having a regular burger.

Researchers from Duke have found that, no matter how well the meatless meat may mimic the real thing on a nutritional level, they are not the same. And, even if you read the nutrition label, you won’t be getting the whole story. The nutrition labels are similar with a mix of vitamins, fat and protein that are roughly comparable with things like zinc and B12 being added to the plant protein.

To consumers reading nutritional labels, they may appear nutritionally interchangeable. But if you peek behind the curtain using metabolomics and look at expanded nutritional profiles, we found that there are large differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative,” said the study’s co-author, Stephan van Vliet.

Metabolomics is the analysis of how chemical components break down in the digestive system. When the researchers compared 18 brands of faux meat to 18 ground beef samples, they found startling differences. They looked at 190 chemical components and found that 171 varied. Beef has 22 not found in the plant-based meat. And, the alternative meat had 31 that weren’t in the beef. Possibly the most important find was that only real beef had anserine, creatine, spermine and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Those are important to inflammation, brain and muscle health. All of this doesn’t say that meat is necessarily better — there are drawbacks to meat — but it shows that plant-based meat isn’t a one-for-one replacement.

Meat isn’t necessary for health; vegans and vegetarians can have a healthy diet. It’s all about finding the right balance. What this study underscores is the need to be aware. You aren’t getting things from these products that you would expect if you were eating meat. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian adding it to your diet, you’ll be fine. But a meat-eater making the switch will be losing nutrients without being aware of it.

You should always speak to your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet. And, you should read the ingredient list on plant-based meats: a lot of ingredients go into making them emulate meat so well. They can be fantastic if you want to make some changes to your diet, but they aren’t suitable for everyone. And, this study shows that they aren’t a fix-all.

Banner image: Alem Sánchez via Pexels
July 09, 2021

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