Cellular uptake of protein from plant-based meat lags behind chicken

Researchers hope the finding will be the first step to creating the next generation of alternative meat.


Hillel Aron, Courthouse News Service

June 22, 2022


(CN) — Plant-based meat is everywhere nowadays: Burger King has the impossible Whopper. Carl’s Jr. has the Beyond Famous Star. Kentucky Fried Chicken has, at times, sold the KFC Beyond Fried Chicken. But while alternative meats are more popular than ever, a new study suggests their nutritional value may not be quite as high as it seems.


The paper, published Wednesday in the American Chemical Society’s ’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that proteins from plant-based alternative meat are not absorbed by human cells as well as proteins from poultry.


The two authors of the study — Osvaldo Campanella, a researcher at The Ohio State University, and Da Chen, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho — were quick to downplay the practical impact of their research. No, this doesn’t mean that plant-based meat isn’t healthy for you, they said.


“It’s not bad news,” Campanella said in a Zoom interview. “It’s a different product. These products, they still have quite a lot of protein.”


Plant-based meats are typically made from plants with high levels of protein, like soybeans, which are then dehydrated into a powder and then mixed with seasoning. The mixture typically gets heated, moistened and then put through an extrusion process, a fairly recent innovation.


Some consumers are drawn to plant-based meat because they oppose animal cruelty. Others are concerned by the amount of water necessary to raise an animal to be slaughtered, or by the animals’ large carbon footprint. Still others seek meat alternatives for health reasons.


Previous lab analysis has already shown that the proteins in the meat substitutes don’t break down into peptides as well as those from animal meat. But Campanella and Chen’s study is the first to look at how the human body is affected by the protein in plant-based meat.


“A lot of companies produce meat analogues, but one question that has not been answered is how nutritious they are,” said Chen...