Plant-based foods are not equivalent to the meat

Plant-based foods are ultra-elaborate foods to imitate the taste, texture, and nutritional composition of meat. But can they replace meat?

Plant-based products proposed as meat substitutes are ultra-elaborate foods to imitate meat’s taste, texture, and nutritional composition. But is their consumption able to replace meat? Researchers at Duke University have studied whether plant-based meat alternatives represent adequate dietary substitutes to answer this question. Their analyses have shown that plant-based products are not nutritionally equivalent to meat, but they are pretty different.

The study used innovative metabolomics methods, able to compare for the first time the profiles of the metabolites of meat and its plant-based substitutes (comparing fifteen samples of fake meat products and as many samples of the meat of similar composition). Metabolites are the intermediate products of metabolic reactions formed from nutrients after eating and are crucial for a number of functions, such as energy conversion, signals among cells, and the construction and demolition of body structures.

#PlantBased products proposed as #MeatSubstitutes are #UltraElaborateFoods to imitate meat's taste, texture, and nutritional composition. But is their consumption is not able to replace #meat. Click To Tweet

Despite the apparent similarities of the nutrients on the label, such as vitamins, fats, and proteins, which make them seem essentially equivalent, laboratory analysis of metabolomics revealed 90% differences in meat metabolites and plant alternatives. In other words, even if the nutrients declared on the label seem the same, their effect on metabolism is entirely different.

Different metabolites have been found exclusively in meat, especially in beef (51 metabolites). Nutrients with significant physiological, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory roles include omega 3 long-chain fatty acid DHA, vitamin B3, glucosamine, hydroxyproline, creatine, and antioxidants such as allantoin, anserine, cysteamine, spermine, and squalene, were present only in beef. For this reason, vegetable products cannot replace meat from a nutritional point of view.

The sophisticated scientific tools of metabolomics finally show for the first time that meat and its plant-based foods are profoundly different, “as plants and animals”, both in nutritional properties and in terms of effects on metabolism.

According to a new #research by the #DukeUniversity, #vegetable products cannot replace #meat from a #nutritional point of view. Click To Tweet

Producers of meat substitutes tried to make plant-based products as similar as possible to meat, even adding leghaemoglobin (an iron-carrying molecule extracted from soybean, which also raised doubts about his safety) to simulate the effect of bleeding. The meat consistency is reproduced by adding indigestible fibers, such as methylcellulose and many other additives. Isolated plant proteins extracted from soybeans, peas, and other plant sources are used to imitate meat protein levels. Other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are added artificially.

For this reason, these hyper-processed products are not healthy for their extreme industrial transformations. Their consumption has been associated with a higher risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

#PlantBased hyper-processed products are not #healthy for their extreme #IndustrialTransformations. Their consumption has been associated with a higher risk of #stroke, #diabetes and #obesity. Click To Tweet

This new study, never realized before, provides precise and essential information to make conscious choices, especially when we erroneously think that fake meat can replace the original one. As stated by Dr. Stephan van Vliet, author of the research: “To consumers reading nutrition labels, they may appear nutritionally interchangeable, but if we peek behind the curtain using metabolomics and look at expanded nutritional profiles, we found that there are large differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative.”

The most significant distinctions occurred in amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, and types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids found in these products. “Several metabolites known to be important to human health were found either exclusively or in greater quantities in beef. These nutrients have important roles for our brain, and other organs, including our muscles,” the author of the study says. “It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable. More research is needed to determine whether there are short-term or long-term effects of the presence or absence of particular metabolites in meat and plant-based meat alternatives”.


Agronomist, nutritional consultant and scientific writer, author and co-author of 11 scientific publications and numerous articles on human nutrition and its impact on health and environment. In 2010 she received the title of Doctor Europaeus and PhD in Animal Production, Health and Food Hygiene in countries with a Mediterranean climate.