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One Major Side Effect of Eating Plant-Based Meat, Says New Study

Don’t skip the veggie burger—just keep this in mind.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Every year brings a fresh wave of food trends, and 2021 seems to be shaping up as the year plant-based meats finally caught hold. Despite veggie burgers being on the market for decades, the wave of fast-food choices is highlighting these alternatives—from Burger King's Impossible Whopper to Panda Express trying out a plant-based orange chicken with Beyond Meat products.

But a new study in Scientific Reports suggests that when it comes to nutrition, they're not exactly an even swap.

Researchers at Duke University noted that when you look at nutrition labels, the amount of vitamins, fats, and protein are very similar to real beef. However, using an approach known as "metabolomics," they were able to examine the biochemistry for 18 plant-based meat products and assess their metabolites.

 Delicious Foods You Can Eat on a Plant-Based Diet

Metabolites are essential for signaling between cells and converting food into energy, and about half of them come from our diet. When the researchers compared samples of plant-based meat with grass-fed ground beef, they found significant differences between the two in terms of metabolite content—up to 90% in some cases.

grass fed ground beef

The beef contained 22 metabolites that were lacking in the plant substitute, including several amino acids and vitamins. Several of these are known to have important anti-inflammatory roles in the body, the researchers noted, such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and creatine, which were all found in larger quantities in the real beef samples.

They aren't suggesting avoiding plant-based meat altogether—in fact, the plant-based products contained 31 metabolites that were missing in the meat. These included vitamin C and phytosterols, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. These compounds are particularly important for lowering cholesterol, which is why plant-based eating is regularly touted for heart health.

In general, that means adding in these alternative meat options could be helpful for getting a full range of beneficial metabolites.

Unless you prefer to eat only plant-based foods, including both plant and animal meats in your diet could yield more nutritional advantages, says lead researcher Stephan van Vliet, Ph.D., a researcher at Duke Molecular Physiology Institute.

"The takeaway is that there are large differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative," he states. "However, plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients."

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth
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