Plant-Based Vegan Meat – Is it Good for You?

Studies questioning plant-based meat’s nutritional value are welcome 

Europe is a leader in the so-called vegan movement, and it’s leading by an impressive margin. In some European countries, statistics indicate that as many as 20% or more of the population no longer consider themselves meat-eaters. Tens of millions of others are so-called flexitarians, people consciously trying to reduce their meat intake while being flexible and not necessarily fond of labels. 

The meat substitute industry is making – and has the potential to make – serious profits from the European market which is affluent, and environmentally conscious. That said, if a product isn’t delicious and nutritious it’s not going to work. New high-tech 3D printed meat is pushing the bounds of delicious into never-before-tasted territory, but a few recent questions have been asked about the nutritious side of things.

In late June 2022, reports emerged of research indicating that plant-based meat alternatives contain protein that may not be as well absorbed by the human body as protein from a chicken breast. On the face of it, such information shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, humans have been consuming animal protein for many tens of thousands of years and have evolved enzymes and other ways of digesting animal protein so as to absorb the most nutrition from it. 

The researchers whose work was cited by the media are Osvaldo Campanella and Da Chen. Both were at The Ohio State University when the research was conducted, and both have noted that “even though plant-based meat alternatives had fewer peptides being absorbed, they still provide a good profile of amino acids and could be an adequate complement to a well-balanced diet.” 

In other words, even with this minor flaw, plant-based meat is still nutritious enough when eaten in tandem with a well-based diet. But more importantly, researchers armed with this latest study have immediately gone back to the drawing boards to begin working on ways to improve the nutrition a human body absorbs from plant-based meat alternatives.

Anyone looking to such a study as ‘proof’ that vegan meat isn’t nutritious is missing the point. Critics may also be overlooking a fundamental shift that’s taking place in the meat substitute industry. Spearheaded by startups – primarily one based in Israel – a new species, so to speak, of plant-based meat created with AI algorithms and 3D printers is already a reality. This means that a plant based kebab can be recreated with such precision (including variations in texture and flavor throughout the kebab) that we’re very close to the day when many people will not be able to tell the difference between one made from a lamb and one made from plants.

This is where the supposed weakness of plant-based meat is shown to actually be its greatest strength. No matter how you cook or ingest beef, pork, or chicken, those animal proteins remain beef, pork, and chicken. To one degree or another, reams of research have shown that elements of animal protein such as bad cholesterol (found especially in red meat) can have serious adverse effects on human health. But you cannot ethically tweak the makeup of beef or chicken. The formula for improving nutrition from plant-based meat alternatives, however, can easily be adjusted as new information comes to light.

This isn’t the first time that plant-based meat has been hit with nutrition concerns. A previous study showed too much fat and sugar was sometimes contained in various meat substitutes. Again, this gave manufacturers important information with which to adjust their formulas and create healthier alternatives.

Humans are a minority in the animal kingdom. As omnivores, we share a special ability to be able to digest both meat and plants, but much of the nutrition we absorb is courtesy of the technology of fire and cooking. It’s theoretically possible to live on fruits and seeds and other raw plants, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy. Cooked meat has been a huge shortcut to getting large amounts of protein. 

But times have changed and today it’s arguable meat does more harm than good for our species, and everything else living on this planet. An unsustainable demand for animal protein is a huge factor driving climate change and there just isn’t enough water and land for both food for what’s soon to be at least 9 billion people, and the many billions of animals raised for food.

Plant-based meat – in particular the new iterations we see being 3D printed – is an excellent development that could lead to healthier bodies and a healthier world. And, if protein or other issues are discovered, no worries! –The startups making ‘new meat’ have nutritionists, scientists, taste experts, and even butchers on their payroll, all to make sure the criteria of both delicious and nutritious are met. 

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