Do meat substitutes provide all the nutrients?

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What is the nutritional value of meat alternatives, really? Image credit: Juan Moyano/Stocksy.
  • Vegetarian diets that include meat alternatives are becoming increasingly popular.
  • Researchers are still struggling to understand the pros and cons of incorporating meat substitutes into the diet.
  • A recent study looked at the value of certain nutrients in meat alternatives. The study results suggest that meat substitutes may not be good sources of iron or zinc.

Many people turn to plant-based diets for health and environmental reasons. Some of these diets include meat substitutes that mimic the textures and tastes of traditional meat products.

A recent study published in Nutrients examined several aspects of the nutritional value of popular meat substitutes.

Researchers have found that meat substitutes are likely a poor source of iron, and many offer insufficient amounts of zinc.

Protein is an essential nutrient in the human diet, but there are many options when it comes to protein sources.

Animal sources of protein such as chicken, fish or beef are available. People who don’t eat meat can get protein from sources like beans, seeds, and lentils to meet their protein needs.

These plant-based diets may have multiple benefitsincluding improving health and respecting the environment.

To attract this market, producers have worked on the development of meat substitutes. These options taste like meat, but come from plant sources. Examples of meat alternatives include tofu, tempeh, and seitan.

As some meat substitutes become more popular, researchers continue to study their benefits and overall nutritional value.

This particular study looked at the nutritional value of 44 meat alternatives, looking at components such as fiber, fat, protein, and salt content.

They also looked at the bioavailability of zinc and iron substitutes. Animal products such as meat and seafood are good sources of zinc and the ironwhich makes it essential to study how meat substitutes compare.

While meat alternatives may contain iron and zinc, the body cannot always use them due to a compound called phytate. Phytate interferes with the body’s ability to absorb iron and zinc and is found in many meat substitutes.

Author of the study Inger-Cecilia Mayer Labbawho is pursuing her doctoral research at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, explained to Medical News Today that “phytate accumulates during the extraction of vegetable proteins commonly used to produce meat substitutes” and that it “has been known for decades to have an inhibitory effect on the absorption of iron, already at a very low concentration.

The researchers found wide variations in nutritional value between products. As for the nutrient zinc, most meat alternatives did not contain enough to be considered an adequate source.

The main exceptions were mycoprotein products derived from mushrooms. The results of this study suggest that mycoprotein products may be a good source of zinc.

Still, the study authors note that the “[d]The degradability of fungal cell walls could, however, be a potential aggravating factor.

In terms of iron, not all of the meat substitutes studied were adequate sources of iron. The main exception was tempeh, which approached “the level of a nutrition claim”.

Mayer Labba noted that the key findings of the study were:

“Meat substitutes such as sausages, meatballs and burgers made from vegetable protein extracts, which are currently the most common raw material for meat substitutes, have very low bioavailability of minerals such as iron and zinc. This is due to a very high content of the antinutrient phytate, which accumulates during the extraction of proteins. Iron also accumulates during the process, but it is not absorbable due to the strong presence of phytate.

She further explained that, “Enriched iron will be affected in the same negative way as native iron. Although these types of products may have an iron nutrient claim, this is not available in a [to] the body, which complicates the task of consumers.

The study indicates the need for greater precision in understanding the nutritional value of meat substitutes. This indicates producers’ need for honesty regarding nutrients like iron supposedly present in meat alternatives.

People who want to switch to plant-based diets can work with their doctor and other nutrition specialists to make sure their diet meets their nutritional needs.

The results of the study indicate that people who follow a plant-based diet must consume iron from sources other than meat substitutes.

However, Kristen Carly, registered dietitian and owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, questioned some of the findings of this study. She commented DTM:

“This study implies that ‘meat substitutes’ are not as nutritious as meat. However, one clinical implication that this study overlooks is that people, regardless of diet, do not derive their entire diet from meat/meat substitute sources alone. Omnivores eat meat, but they also eat a variety of other foods containing iron, zinc, and protein. Same for vegetarians. »

“It is possible and even expected that these nutrients will end up in other foods. Additionally, many vegetarians do not eat meat substitutes, but instead seek out other forms of plant-based protein, such as beans or quinoa“, she noted.

“If you switch to a plant-based diet, you don’t have to rely so heavily on meat alternatives to meet all of your nutritional needs,” Carli points out.

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