Eating fake meat offers no clear benefit to heart health

There need to be ‘improvements’ to plant-based meat products to justify the perception that they are healthier alternatives, experts say.

It follows an experiment which found that eating fake meat provides no real benefit when it comes to heart health.

Researchers also found that people who consumed these ultra-processed products appeared to have worse blood pressure than those who ate meat.

It has prompted experts to call for a ‘re-evaluation’ of meat alternatives for the future, as researchers questioned the ‘health halo’ surrounding fake meat.

Co-author of the study, Dr Sumanto Haldar, lecturer in food science at Bournemouth University, said: “Currently, the production of these plant-based meat alternatives often involves a significant amount of processing.

“The final products may contain high levels of salt, saturated fat and additives to match the taste and texture of real meat products.

“It is clear that there is still significant opportunity for improvements in plant-based meat analogues in the marketplace to justify the perception of superior health benefits of these products.

“As it stands now, the plant-based meat alternatives currently available do not provide the same health benefits as a traditional plant-based diet, which generally consists of whole foods such as whole grains, legumes and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

“This gives impetus to the food industry to re-evaluate the development of the next generation of meat alternative products so that they not only taste good, but also have improved nutritional properties and are more affordable for the entire population.”

In the study, 82 people at risk of type 2 diabetes were divided into two groups for eight weeks. Half followed a plant-based diet, the other half had meat.

The vegan group consumed ultra-processed products from brands such as Impossible Beef, Omni Foods, the Vegetarian Butcher, Beyond Meat and the Vegetarian Butcher.

The meat-eating group was given minced beef and pork, chicken fillets, hamburger patties, sausages and chicken nuggets as part of their diet.

Researchers assessed the participants’ cardiometabolic health before and after the study and reported: “Of the classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease, no clear effects were observed between the animal meat diet and the plant-based meat groups.”

In terms of sodium intake, levels fell among the meat eaters, but peaked at 42.5% among those who ate the meat alternatives.

The researchers concluded: “These findings suggest that despite the well-documented health benefits of traditional plant-based diets, their health benefits should not be conflated with plant-based meat diets.”

Although interest in veganism has grown substantially, several manufacturers of plant-based meat substitutes have recently reported a decline in sales.