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Plant-based meat alternatives do not offer cardiometabolic health benefits over meat, study finds

April 15, 2024

Manufacturers of plant-based meat analogues (PBMAs) have opportunities to make further improvements to justify the commonly perceived ‘health halo’ surrounding their products, a new study has concluded.

In a clinical trial over eight weeks, researchers found that a diet containing PBMAs – including vegan sausages, burgers and minced ‘meat’  - did not provide any greater benefits to a person’s cardiometabolic health compared to an omnivorous diet.

The findings have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Traditional plant-based diets are rich in fruit and vegetables which contain dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important natural plant-based components,” commented Dr Sumanto Haldar, Lecturer in Nutrition Science at Bournemouth University who was part of the study team with co-researchers at the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation, where the study took place.

“But in recent years, PBMAs have grown in popularity as more people want something that tastes like their burgers or chicken nuggets but does not contain any meat, for reasons of animal welfare, sustainability and perceived health benefits.

"At present, producing these PBMAs often involves a substantial amount of processing and the end products can be high in salt, saturated fat and additives in order to match the taste, texture and other attributes of real meat products. We therefore wanted to find out whether the ‘plant-based health halo' around these products is justified,” he added.

Over the course of the dietary intervention, 89 participants were randomly divided into one of two groups. One group substituted their usual protein foods with six popular PBMAs, which can be found on the supermarket shelves globally. The other group substituted their usual protein foods with animal-based products, corresponding to the PBMAs and with comparable protein content.

At the beginning and end of the trial, the researchers carried out several measurements to assess the participants’ cardiometabolic health, including their blood lipid profile (for example LDL cholesterol levels), markers of blood glucose homeostasis – the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

The results did not show any clear differences of eating the plant-based meat analogue diet as compared with a comparable meat-based diet.

“It is clear that there are still a lot of opportunities for improvements in the current plant-based meat analogues in the market in order to justify superior health benefits of these products,” Dr Haldar said.

“As it stands, the PBMA choices currently available in the market do not offer same health advantages as a traditional plant-based diet, generally consisting of whole foods such as whole grains, legumes and a plethora of fruits and vegetables. This gives an impetus for the food industry to re-evaluate the development of the next generation of meat alternative products, so that they not only taste good, but also have improved nutritional attributes and are more affordable for the entire population” he concluded.

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