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Nutritional limitations of switching from animal protein to plant-based protein
The availability of foods based on plant proteins to substitute for meat has increased dramatically as more people choose a plant-based diet. At the same time, there are many challenges regarding the nutritional value of these products. A study from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden now shows that many of the meat substitutes sold in Sweden claim a high content of iron but in a form that cannot be absorbed by the body.
A diet largely made up of plant-based foods such as root vegetables, pulses, fruit and vegetables generally has a low climate impact and is also associated with health benefits such as a reduced risk of age-related diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as has been shown in several large studies. But there have been far fewer studies of how people’s health is affected by eating products based on what are known as textured plant proteins.
In the new study from Chalmers, a research team in the Division of Food and Nutrition Science analysed 44 different meat substitutes sold in Sweden. Among these products, the researchers saw a wide variation in nutritional content and how sustainable they can be from a health perspective. In general, the estimated absorption of iron and zinc from the products was extremely low. This is because these meat substitutes contained high levels of phytates, anti-nutrients that inhibit the absorption of minerals in the body.
“Plant-based food is important for the transition to sustainable food production, and there is huge development potential for plant-based meat substitutes. The industry needs to think about the nutritional value of these products and to utilise and optimise known process techniques such as fermentation, but also develop new methods to increase the absorption of various important nutrients,” says the researchers.
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