DEC 14, 2022 10:00 AM PST

Some Meat Substitute Foods Have Low Nutritional Quality

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

For a number of reasons, plant-based alternative to meat and animal products have emerged in recent years. On one hand, the health impacts of foods like red meat on the heart, for example, have pushed people towards more plant-based diets. On the other hand, the environmental impact of raising cows for beef, for example, can be staggering at times. These factors combined, people have looked for plant-based alternatives to meat that are designed to be both healthier and more environmentally sustainable to make.

But are these plant-based alternatives to meat, in particular, living up to their reputation as a healthier, nutrient-rich alternative to meat? Some research is indicating maybe not. A team of researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden recently conducted a study examine the nutritional qualities of plant-based meat substitute foods, finding that there were concerns about what these products claimed in terms of nutritional quality and what they delivered. The team’s work is published in a recent article in Nutrients.

As part of their study, researchers examined about 44 meat substitute products, which were mainly produced using “textured” plant proteins like soy and pea protein, as well as tempeh and proteins found in fungi. The team found something interesting.

Not only did nutritional quality vary widely, but the team found that the amount of key nutrients absorbed in the body from these foods (iron and zinc, specifically), was low, likely due to what are called phytates in the meat substitutes. Phytates can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients. And although many meat substitutes list high levels of iron on their packaging (iron, for example, is naturally extracted when proteins are pulled from plants to make a meat substitute), they are bound to phytates and can’t be used by the body.

The team noted that foods like tempeh had a high amount of iron available for absorption, separating it from other meat substitute products. Proteins found in fungi had high amoutns of zinc, though questions remain about the ability of the intestines to break down these proteins, limiting our understanding of the nutrients we absorb from these sources.

Sources: Science Daily; Nutrients

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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