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Meat And Meat-Substitutes: One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Hamburger patties cooking on an open grill.
Joshua Kantarges
/
Unsplash

The manufacturers of plant-based meat substitutes have done quite a bit of work to make their products as meat-like as possible. That includes adding beet or berry extracts to imitate blood and upping the protein content using sources like soy, mushrooms and mung beans.

"But foods are much more complicated than that," said Stephan van Vliet, a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. "They contain several thousands of metabolites and nutrients that are potentially capable of impacting human health and metabolism."

Metabolites are substances made or used when the body breaks down things like food or its own tissue, like fat or muscle, in the process known as metabolism.

Van Vliet led a study that compared a popular plant-based meat alternative to ground beef from a ranch in Idaho. The beef contained 22 metabolites that the plant-based substitute did not. At the same time, the plant-based substitute contained 31 metabolites that the meat did not.

Because of that, van Vliet said that consumers should not consider the two products as nutritionally interchangeable and it's still not clear if one is healthier than the other — they're just different.

"The point being here is that if you take a peek behind the curtain of the nutrition facts panels, and look at the expanded nutrition profiles, this is where you see large differences between meat and veggie alternatives," he said.

Vliet said more research needs to be done on both the short-term and long-term health effects of the presence or absence of the metabolites in meat and plant-based alternatives.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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