Proteins in plant-based meat alternatives may not be as accessible to human cells as those from real meat, a new study has suggested.
While plants rich in protein, such as soy beans, are commonly used worldwide, researchers, including those from the Ohio State University in the US, say it is unclear how much of the nutrient makes it into human cells.
In the study published on Wednesday in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists assessed if human cells grown in a lab absorb the same quantities of the protein building blocks peptides from meat alternatives as they do from chicken.
The findings may lead to new ingredients that may increase the uptake of nutrients from plant-based meat products, researchers say.
To mimic the look and texture of real meat, they say plant-based substitutes are usually made by dehydrating plants into a powder and mixing them with seasonings.
These mixtures are then typically heated, moistened, and processed through an extruder to produce plant-based meat, researchers say, adding that these products are often thought to be more nutritious since the plants used to make them are high in protein and low in undesirable fat.
However, researchers say the proteins in substitutes may not break down into peptides as well as those from meats.
In the new study, they analyzed the quantity of peptides absorbed from a model meat alternative by human cells and compared this to the amount the cells absorbed from a piece of chicken breast (CB).
For the research, scientists created a model meat alternative (MA) made of soy and wheat gluten with the extrusion process.
When cut open, they say the material had long fibrous pieces inside, just like chicken.
Researchers then cooked pieces of the substitute and chicken meat, and broke them down using an enzyme that humans use to digest food.
They found that peptides and their amino acid building blocks from the meat substitutes were less water-soluble than those from chicken, and were also “not absorbed as well by human cells”.
“The amino acid composition showed fewer essential and non-essential amino acids in the MA permeate than in the CB permeate,” scientists wrote in the study.
They say future studies can help identify ingredients that can help boost the peptide uptake of plant-based meat substitutes.