Plant-based meats have become more common as a way to enjoy the taste of meat without causing damage to animals or the environment.
Plant-based meats with low fat and cholesterol levels may help reduce obesity and cardiovascular disease risk, but studies suggest that they may be less digestible than animal-derived meats.
Knowing more about how plant-based proteins are digested might help evaluate their potential as a primary source of protein.
Researchers studied protein absorption from plant-based meat in recent years, indicating that plant-based protein was less absorbable during an in-vitro digestion process than protein from chicken.
The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Plant-based vs. chicken
The researchers created a plant-based chicken meat using soybean concentrate and wheat gluten. The final product had a protein content of 24.2%.
The plant-based meat was then mixed with chicken meat, ground to simulate the chewing process, and passed through a 2.36 mm sieve to avoid sample size-induced harm to digestion for the two samples.
The meat that resulted in the carcass has then been subjected to several in vitro tests to study protein absorption during digestion.
Using these experiments, researchers discovered that plant-based meats'' water solubility gradually increased during in vitro digestion, reaching around 8% following gastric digestion, and then 14% at the end of intestinal digestion.
Chicken peptides were by contrast more water-soluble than plant-based peptides.
De plus, they noted that among the 110 peptides discovered in the plant-based meat, half of them remained following the digestion process.
In the same day, among the over 500 peptides identified in chicken meat, only 15% remained after digestion. This, according to experts, suggested that peptides in chicken are more readily-absorbed than those from plant-based sources.
Dr. Da Chen, a post-doctoral researcher at Ohio State University and author of the study, told Medical News Today: "When asked what might explain why human cells absorb less protein than chicken," he said.
Proteins are subjected to digestion before being absorbed by human intestinal epithelial cells. Following digestion, proteins become mainly peptides. The size and polarity of peptides have been described to be very closely linked to their absorption.
peptides obtained from the digestion of plant-based meats were larger [and less water-soluble], which makes them pass through epithelial cells less difficult than chicken, resulting in an absorption reduction.
Professor V.M. (Bala) Balasubramaniam, who works at Ohio State University for food science and technology, was not involved in the research.
I agree with the authors'' view on this. Chicken meat proteins demonstrated improved swelling capacity, which aided digestion enzymes. soybean proteins contain certain antinutritional factors (e.g., phytate and tannins) which might reduce protein hydrolysis [water solubility], according to MNT.
Furthermore, structural differences between plant and animal-based foods might also impact how proteins are released, according to the authors.
David Julian McClements, a distinguished professor at the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, was not involved in the study, but noted that digestibility and absorption are dependent on several factors, including:
- protein type
- protein denaturation
- protein aggregation
- food matrix effects
- antinutritional factors
- processing and cooking methods
He said that the findings from this study might not apply to all plant-based meat comparisons.
Wheat gluten is not water-soluble and has rigid structures than soy and chicken proteins, making it less digestible. The present findings may not apply to plant-based meats made purely from soybeans.
Still good sources of protein
The authors concluded that changing formulation and production standards might help the nutritional value of plant-based meats.
Not only the texture, but also protein nutrition should be considered when it comes to plant-based meat, according to Dr. Da Chen.
The research findings begin to provide some insight into how different plant and animal proteins influence human health. This will enable the food processors to understand the benefits and limitations of different food processing techniques and ingredients. Prof. Balasubramaniam
Plant-based meats are still viable sources of protein, according to Dr. Chen.
Plant-based meats would be still popular in terms of protein nutrition because it has a good amino acid profile. In the present research, whether consumers should eat more plant-based meat to obtain equivalent nutrition is out of scope, because it relates to the daily intake of proteins, which has not been observed.
Larger studies needed
According to Dr. Chen, the study''s limitations only referred to soy/wheat proteins as the primary protein source for meat analog production, and for those who make with other proteins or different formulations, the results could be different.
Our study [also] only used in vitro digestion, and it may differ from that of in vivo digestion. Future [studies] should be focused more on clinical trials, according to the authors.
Despite McClements'' remarks, this research, as well as others, are crucial. He said: If we are going to replace animal foods with plant-based alternatives, we do not intend to have any detrimental consequences on human nutrition and health.
Il is therefore important to design plant-based foods to have similar or better nutritional profiles and digestibility/absorption behavior as animal-based foods they are designed to replace.