Plant-based meats vs. real meats: Which is better

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In a study from George Institute, scientists found that although plant-based meat products are generally healthier than meat equivalents, they can be higher in sugar and are often lacking important nutrients found in real meat.

While the team found plant-based meat products were generally healthier than their processed meat equivalents, the team says healthier alternatives would still be lean unprocessed meats and legumes, beans and falafel.

Plant-based meats, or meat analogs, are designed to mimic meat products and act as a substitute for meat protein.

They are commonly made from plant-based vegetable protein (soy protein, wheat protein, pea and rice protein, or a combination) or fermentation-based fungus protein (mycoprotein).

In the study, researchers used the Institute’s FoodSwitch database to assess and compare the nutrient content and nutritional quality of plant-based meat analogs and their equivalent meat products.

The types of meat products and plant-based meat analog equivalents studied were burgers, meatballs, mince, sausages, bacon, coated poultry, plain poultry, and meat with pastry.

The team found that overall, plant-based meat analogs were found to have a healthier nutritional profile compared with equivalent meat products and their energy content was marginally lower.

While the protein content was similar in both categories, plant-based meat analogs on average had much less saturated fat and sodium, as well as more fiber than meat products.

However, among the 132 plant-based meat analogs analyzed, only 12 percent were fortified with key micronutrients essential for health that are found in meat—iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.

The team says in Australia, processed meats have been linked to various types of cancer, so consumers are advised to limit these meats as part of a healthy diet.

But it isn’t as simple as a straight swap—solely relying on meat alternatives as a direct replacement for meat could lead to iron, zinc and B12 deficiencies over time.

To prevent this, people should consume other animal proteins such as eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt and/or rich plant-based sources of iron including dark leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as tofu, nuts, and seeds, and beans and legumes.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about how Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and this plant nutrient could help reduce high blood pressure.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The study was conducted by Maria Shahid et al and published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics.

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