Meat-free proteins are protein sources that do not come from animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs.
Instead, they are usually derived from plant-based sources, such as legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Meat-free protein sources have gained popularity in recent years due to concerns over the environmental impact of meat production, as well as concerns over health and animal welfare.
Common examples of meat-free protein sources include tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, and nuts.
These plant-based proteins are often used as substitutes for meat in vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as in other meat-reducing diets.
With the growing concern for sustainable protein sources and the increasing number of people looking for meat substitutes, legumes are becoming a popular choice. Legumes are a great source of protein, vitamins, and fiber.
However, a new study found that for people with allergies to legumes like soy or peanuts, these meat-free protein substitutes can be dangerous.
Scientists at the University Medical Center Utrecht set out to examine whether patients allergic to particular legumes are at risk from meat-free proteins made of different legumes.
They pointed out that an increase in the consumption of legumes may lead to an increase in the number of allergies to these foods.
Therefore, the team investigated how often sensitization and allergy to different legumes occur in legume-allergic patients.
Food allergies occur when the immune system confuses food proteins with a threat and produces Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
Sensitized people can develop symptoms of an allergy upon re-exposure to the same food. Patients that react to one food may also react to another; this is a co-allergy.
Co-sensitization occurs when patients produce IgE antibodies against several foods.
Co-sensitization may be caused by cross-reactivity, where IgE antibodies bind to proteins from multiple foods because the proteins share similar structures.
In the study, the team tested legume-allergic patients from the Allergology Clinic at the University Medical Center Utrecht and split them into six groups according to allergies: peanuts, soybeans, green peas, lupines, lentils, and beans.
Each different group was tested for IgE antibodies against the other legumes.
The study showed that a large number of patients produced antibodies against more than one legume, but clinical data showed that only a small part of these patients had actual symptoms.
All six patient groups showed co-sensitization to additional legumes, and almost a quarter of patients was sensitized to all legumes.
Patients allergic to green peas, lupines, or lentils were likely to be sensitized to other legumes, while patients with diagnosed allergies to peanuts or soybeans were not.
Patients with peanut allergies were also often co-allergic to soybeans, and vice versa.
The team also looked at which of these patients had documented co-allergies for several legumes.
The high co-sensitization rate was associated with clinical symptoms in only a relatively small number of patients.
Co-sensitization for peanuts was associated with clinically relevant co-allergy in almost all the other legume groups.
However, the team cautioned that it will be necessary to expand the study to a larger group and confirm co-allergies with oral food challenges to determine how clinically relevant this co-sensitization is in practice.
In conclusion, legumes are a great sustainable protein source, but allergic reactions in the already legume-allergic population cannot be excluded.
The introduction of novel foods into the market should be accompanied by an appropriate assessment of the risk of developing new food allergies.
If you care about nutrition, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health and the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about plant nutrients that could help reduce high blood pressure, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by Dr. Mark Smits et al and published in Frontiers in Allergy.
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