Every year brings a new wave of food trends, and 2021 looks set to be the year plant-based meats finally take hold. Despite veggie burgers being on the market for decades, the wave of fast food choices is highlighting these alternatives — from Impossible Whopper from Burger King to Panda Express to try a vegetable orange chicken with Beyond Meat products.
But a new study in Scientific Reports suggests that when it comes to nutrition, they’re not really an equal exchange.
Duke University researchers noted that if you look at nutrition labels, the amount of vitamins, fats and proteins is very similar to real beef. However, using an approach known as “metabolomics,” they were able to examine the biochemistry of 18 plant-based meat products and assess their metabolites.
Metabolites are essential for signaling between cells and converting food into energy, and about half of that comes from our diet. When the researchers compared samples of plant-based meat to grass-fed ground beef, they found significant differences between the two in terms of metabolite content — up to 90% in some cases.
The beef contained 22 metabolites that were missing from the plant substitute, including several amino acids and vitamins. Several of these are known to have important anti-inflammatory roles in the body, the researchers noted, such as: Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and creatine, all of which were found in higher amounts in the real beef samples.
They don’t suggest avoiding plant-based meats altogether — in fact, the plant-based products contain 31 metabolites that were missing from the meat. This included vitamin C and phytosterols, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. These connections are especially important for lower cholesterolThat’s why plant-based foods are regularly touted for heart health.
In general, this means that adding these alternative meat options can be beneficial to get a full range of beneficial metabolites.
Unless you prefer to eat only plant-based foods, including both plant-based and animal-based meats in your diet may provide more nutritional benefits, says lead researcher Stephan van Vliet, Ph.D., a researcher at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute.
“The takeaway is that there are big differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative,” he states. “However, plant and animal foods can be complementary, as they provide different nutrients.”
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