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Meat-substitute manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make the plant-based product as meaty as possible
US-based Duke University research team’s deeper examination of the nutritional content of plant-based meat alternatives, using a sophisticated tool of the science known as ‘metabolomics’, has shown that they’re as different as plants and animals.
Meat-substitute manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make the plant-based product as meaty as possible, including adding leghemoglobin, an iron-carrying molecule from soy, and red beet, berries and carrot extracts to simulate bloodiness. The texture of near-meat is thickened by adding indigestible fibers like methyl cellulose. And to bring the plant-based meat alternatives up to the protein levels of meat, they use isolated plant proteins from soy, peas, and other plant sources. Some meat-substitutes also add vitamin B12 and zinc to further replicate meat’s nutrition.
The metabolites that the scientists measured are building blocks of the body’s biochemistry, crucial to the conversion of energy, signaling between cells, building structures and tearing them down, and a host of other functions. There are expected to be more than 100,000 of these molecules in biology and about half of the metabolites circulating in human blood are estimated to be derived from our diets.
The Duke Molecular Physiology Institute’s metabolomics core lab compared 18 samples of a popular plant-based meat alternative to 18 grass-fed ground beef samples from a ranch in Idaho. The analysis of 36 carefully cooked patties found that 171 out of the 190 metabolites they measured varied between beef and the plant-based meat substitute.
The beef contained 22 metabolites that the plant substitute did not. The plant-based substitute contained 31 metabolites that meat did not. The greatest distinctions occurred in amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, and types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids found in these products.
Several metabolites known to be important to human health were found either exclusively or in greater quantities in beef, including creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.