New research shows that some plant-based steaks and meats are deficient in protein

Vegetable steak

A recent study found that plant-based meats, while similar in taste and texture to animal products, tend to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein, with varying levels of amino acids and protein digestibility. The research shows that there is a need for greater consumer awareness of these nutritional differences.

Plant-based meat has impressively mimicked a range of animal products, from beef to seafood. However, the question remains: how do they compare nutritionally? According to a recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published by ACS, while some plant-based alternatives such as ‘plant-based steaks’ and ‘plant-based meats’ may rival real meat in some respects, they fall short in areas such as amino acid. pickles content and protein digestibility.

Meat-free burgers or mince imitations may be the first to come to mind, but the options for plant-based alternatives have expanded to include whole cuts of meat similar to steaks and chicken breasts, as well as sliced ​​meats such as salami or bresaola – a type of deli meat. salted beef. While these newer products have not yet been as extensively researched as burger-style products, they are becoming more widespread and popular among consumers.

Therefore, it is important to understand how they differ nutritionally from the meat they aim to replicate and replace. In other words, how well does our body digest and extract nutrition from these foods? Tullia Tedeschi and colleagues set out to answer that question by comparing the protein quality, integrity and digestibility of a range of plant-based steaks and meats with their meat counterparts.

Meat products and their plant-based alternatives

Meat products (top left veal; bottom left bresaola) generally contain more proteins and amino acids than their plant-based alternatives (right). Credit: Adapted from Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.3c08956

Methodology and initial findings

The team, based in Italy, collected three different plant-based steaks and three different plant-based meats. Veal steaks were used as a point of comparison for the plant-based steaks, while ham and beef cuts were compared to their respective plant-based substitutes. The fat, salt and protein content of each was measured, then the samples underwent simulated digestion in the laboratory to understand how well the proteins break down in a human digestive tract.

  • The plant-based products contain more carbohydrates, less protein and lower amino acid content than their meat-based counterparts.
  • Plant steaks and the veal samples were comparable in essential amino acid content and digestibility.
  • Plant-based meats generally contain less salt than meat and contain fewer essential products amino acids. Different products also showed different levels of digestibility due to the variety of ingredients they contained.

Overall, the nutritional value of the plant products was highly dependent on the plants used to make them, causing wide variations in the amino acid content and digestibility of their proteins. In contrast, all samples within a given meat type showed similar nutritional profiles. The researchers say this work helps demonstrate that careful consideration must be taken when replacing meat products with plant-based alternatives, and that these differences in nutritional profile must be communicated to consumers to enable informed decisions.

Reference: “Assessment of Protein Quality and Digestibility in Plant-Based Meat Analogues” by Sara Cutroneo, Barbara Prandi, Nicoletta Pellegrini, Stefano Sforza and Tullia Tedeschi, April 1, 2024, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.3c08956

The authors acknowledge funding from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy for this work.