You may choose to eat a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons, including the fact that you want to eat foods that are very tasty and, of course, nutritious. However, new research has found that certain meat substitutes lack key nutrients your body needs.
A study from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, published in Nutrients, involved looking at 44 different types of meat substitutes on the market. This variety is primarily based on soy and bean protein, but there are also options that include fermented soy products such as tempeh, and mycoprotein, which is protein derived from fungi.
The researchers found that different meat substitutes have different nutritional content. They also state that the estimated amount of both iron and zinc that can be absorbed into the body from these foods is low, due to phytates, which are anti-nutrients.
Read on to learn more about the effects of some of these meat substitutes, and for more health tips, check out 5 Coffee Habits That May Be Shortening Your Life.
Plant proteins may lack certain nutrients
“Not all proteins are created equal,” Catherine Gervacio, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition contributor for Living.Fit, tells Eat This, Not That! “Despite the fact that plant-based proteins have less fat, calories, and cholesterol than meat products, they also lack certain qualities. This study presents one of the main qualities that plant-based proteins lack.”
Gervacio explains that “Meat substitutes are derived from plants,” and “Plants naturally contain phytates to store phosphorus for reproduction and growth.” Although this is “beneficial for plants, phytate is known as an anti-nutrient because it binds certain nutrients to make them less absorbable, especially calcium, zinc and iron.”
Gervacio states that “This is why plant-based proteins or meat substitutes are known to carry non-heme iron (the less absorbable type of iron) because phytates bind to it.”
However, fermented products may be better
To make sure you’re choosing a nutritious plant-based meat substitute, Gervacio says, “As noted in the study, fermented products such as tempeh are excluded from plant-based foods and meat substitutes because phytates are broken down through fermentation. Miso is another type that has gone through fermentation and has the same quality as tempeh.”
“Choosing the best plant-based foods can be tricky, especially if iron and zinc are some of your main concerns,” added Gervacio, noting that, “However, there are products that have been fortified with iron and/or zinc to meet daily needs such as certain breakfast cereals or non-dairy milk.”
Eating animal products from time to time can help
Additionally, Gervacio says, “I still highly recommend eating a balanced diet that has a combination of animal and plant-based protein. Although animal protein contains cholesterol and fat, it can provide the body with large amounts of iron and zinc. Plant-based foods often lack the ability to provides absorbable iron and zinc, but it can lower blood cholesterol and has fewer calories. Both can fill other deficiencies.”
Finally, Gervacio points out that “For those who follow a plant-based diet, it is better to talk to a professional to find out if the actual diet lacks certain nutrients and if supplements are needed.”
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée