New Research Reveals That Some Plant-Based Steaks and Cold Cuts Are Lacking in Protein

Plant Based Steak

A recent study indicates that plant-based meats, while similar in taste and texture to animal products, generally contain more carbohydrates and less protein, with varying levels of amino acids and protein digestibility. The research suggests the need for greater consumer awareness of these nutritional differences.

Plant-based meats have impressively mimicked a range of animal products, from beef to seafood. However, the question remains: how do they stack up nutritionally? According to a recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published by ACS, while some plant-based alternatives like “plant steaks” and “plant cold cuts” may rival real meats in certain aspects, they fall short in areas such as amino acid content and protein digestibility.

Meat-free burgers or ground beef mimics might come to mind first, but the options for plant-based alternatives have expanded to include whole cuts of meat resembling steaks and chicken breasts, as well as sliced cold cuts like salami or bresaola — a type of cured beef. While these newer products haven’t been studied as extensively as burger-style products, they are becoming more widespread and popular among consumers.

As a result, it’s important to understand how they differ nutritionally from the meats they aim to replicate and replace. In other words, how well do our bodies digest and gain nutrition from these foods? Tullia Tedeschi and colleagues wanted to answer that question by comparing the protein quality, integrity, and digestibility of a set of plant-based steaks and cold cuts to their meat counterparts.

Meat Products and Their Plant Based Alternatives

Meat products (top left, veal; bottom left, bresaola) tend to 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 cold cuts. Veal steaks were used as a comparison point for the plant steaks, whereas ham and beef cold cuts were compared to their respective plant-based substitutes. The fat, salt and protein content of each was measured, then the samples underwent a simulated digestion in the lab to understand how well the proteins break down in a human’s digestive tract.

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

Overall, the nutritional value of the plant-based products depended greatly on the plants used to create them, causing wide variation in their amino acid content and the digestibility of their proteins. In contrast, all the samples within a particular meat type showed comparable nutritional profiles. The researchers say that this work helps demonstrate that careful consideration should be taken when replacing meat products with plant-based alternatives, and that these differences in nutritional profile should be communicated to consumers to allow for 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, 1 April 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.

2 Comments on "New Research Reveals That Some Plant-Based Steaks and Cold Cuts Are Lacking in Protein"

  1. FrequentFlyer | April 22, 2024 at 6:35 am | Reply

    “The poisons will be hidden in everything that surrounds them, in what they drink, eat,
    breathe and wear.”

  2. When will we have steak that tastes like lettuce?

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