Over the last few years, there has been a flurry of plant-based meat substitutes flooding the market: burger patties, sausages, minces, nuggets that claim to be a perfect replacement for the real things. However, it turns out that this may not be true. Don't get me wrong here--there are indeed many benefits to eating a predominantly plant-based diet, including a lower BMI, lower risk of heart disease and cholesterol, diabetes management, among other things. And yes, you could be plant-based for ethical reasons or to reduce the ravages of factory farming on the environment.
However, the truth is this-- just because plant-based meat substitutes manage to emulate the taste and texture of meat doesn't make it nutritionally the same thing. Sure, the nutrition labels sometimes make it sound the same; a Beyond Burger patty has 20 gms of protein, around the same found in 87 gms of chicken or three whole eggs. However, plant-based meats are often highly processed, extruded food products containing binders, additives, flavouring, and allergens like wheat and soy. Also, most plant-based meats contain too much sodium, not enough Vitamin B and can be very high in carbohydrates or sugars.
And there is more—even if nutritionally speaking they have all the vitamins, minerals and proteins of meat—they just aren't metabolised the same way. When researchers from Duke University recently conducted a deeper examination of the nutritional content of plant-based meat alternatives, using a sophisticated tool of the science known as 'metabolomics,' they discovered that it simply isn't possible for plants to offer the same nutrition as animals.
The research was conducted by comparing 18 cooked samples of a popular plant-based meat alternative to 18 grass-fed ground beef samples from a ranch in Idaho. "The analysis of 36 carefully cooked patties found that 171 out of the 190 metabolites they measured varied between beef and the plant-based meat substitute," said the study. It also pointed out that several essential metabolites such as creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine and squalene were found exclusively or in greater quantities in beef. "These nutrients have potentially important physiological, anti-inflammatory, and or immunomodulatory roles," the authors said in the paper.
In short—you can't replace meat with plant-based meat substitutes. They're nice to have around if you're transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle but may not be great for you regularly. So if you are planning to go plant-based, and yes, there are benefits to it, it is still better to stick to minimally processed food like grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables, keeping plant-based meat substitutes for occasions. And yes, please don't forget to supplement with B12 and Vitamin D.