By John Salak –
Plant-based meat alternatives may taste and chew like their beefy counterparts, but from a nutritional basis, these two edibles are as different as night and day.
The good news for proponents of either food is that one type isn’t necessarily better than the other from a nutritional standpoint. They are just different, at least that’s what researchers at Duke University’s Molecular Physiology Institute report.
The Duke study took a deep look at the differences after noting that at first glance plant-based meat substitutes generally list about 13 items on their nutrition labels, such as vitamins, fats, and protein. This makes these alternatives seem equivalent to meat counterparts.
Discovering the nutritional distinctions required researchers to use a tool known as metabolomics, which examines the chemical processes involving specific metabolites that are building blocks of the body’s biochemistry, crucial to the conversion of energy.
They also noted that mock meat manufacturers have made great strides in recent years to elevate not only the texture and taste of their alternatives but also to enhance the protein content of their products as well as adding Vitamin B12 and zinc.
The study revealed that 18 samples of grass-fed beef contained 22 metabolites that the plant substitute did not, while the same number of plant alternatives contained 31 metabolites that meat did not. The Duke researchers noted the greatest distinctions occurred in amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, and types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids found in these products.
“To consumers reading nutritional labels, they may appear nutritionally interchangeable,” said team leader Stephan van Vliet. “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.”
The examination discovered that several critical metabolites were found either exclusively or in greater quantities in beef, including creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Yet the researchers quickly added that this doesn’t mean vegetarians or vegans are in danger of being nutritionally deprived. Besides, plant-based products contain important metabolites not found in beef such as phytosterols and phenols, which led the research team to suggest beef and plant-based alternatives can be nutritionally complementary.
“These (beef-based) nutrients are important for our brain and other organs including our muscles,” van Vliet said. “But some people on vegan diets (no animal products), can live healthy lives — that’s very clear.”
“It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that’s not to say that one is better than the other,” said van Vliet. “Plant and animal foods can be complementary because they provide different nutrients.”