Humans Absorb Less Protein From Plant-Based Meat Than Normal Meat

The researchers’ experiments revealed that meat replacement peptides were less water-soluble than chicken peptides and were not as well absorbed by human cells.

Plant-based meat supplies less protein to human cells than chicken meat

The push for plant-based meat has already gained a lot of support. However, it’s not understood how much of the protein makes it into human cells, despite the fact that protein-rich plants like soybeans are often used as components.

Researchers report that proteins in a model plant-based alternative were not as easily absorbed by cells as those from meat in a recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

A meat substitute (left) resembles chicken meat (right), but its proteins are not absorbed as well by human cells. Credit: Adapted from Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.2c01711

Almost every kind of replacement meat, from ground beef to fish sticks, is now available for purchase by consumers. Plants are dried into a powder and combined with spices to simulate the appearance and texture of the real thing. Typically, the combinations are then heated, moistened, and put through an extruder.

Because the plants used to manufacture them are rich in protein and low in unhealthy fats, these products are often considered to be healthier than animal meats. However, laboratory tests have shown that the breakdown of replacement proteins into peptides is inferior to that of proteins from meat.

Osvaldo Campanella, Da Chen, and colleagues wanted to go a step further and see if human cells can absorb similar amounts of peptides from a model meat alternative as they can from a piece of chicken.

The researchers created a model meat alternative made of soy and wheat gluten with the extrusion process. When cut open, the material had long fibrous pieces inside, just like chicken. Cooked pieces of the substitute and chicken meat were then ground up and broken down with an enzyme that humans use to digest food.

In vitro tests showed that meat-substitute peptides were less water-soluble than those from chicken, and they also were not absorbed as well by human cells. With this new understanding, the researchers say the next step is to identify other ingredients that could help boost the peptide uptake of plant-based meat substitutes.

The study was funded by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Reference: “Characterization and Cellular Uptake of Peptides Derived from In Vitro Digestion of Meat Analogues Produced by a Sustainable Extrusion Process” by Da Chen, Diana Rocha-Mendoza, Shengyue Shan, Zachary Smith, Israel García-Cano, Julie Prost, Rafael Jimenez-Flores and Osvaldo Campanella, 22 June 2022, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.2c01711

American Chemical SocietyDietFood ScienceNutritionOhio State UniversityProtein
Comments ( 24 )
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  • Sam

    Well, duh! You can’t compare vegetable based products with meat! That’s not even intelligent let alone scientific. Now comparing dal (lentil) with vegetable based meat, yes. Apples to apples, people.

    • Diamond

      Yes, I agree. And I hate when these studies lump all the meat substitutes together. Impossible foods contains soy, Beyond does not and is made of pea protein. Gardein is made of wheat gluten. So which meat substitutes did they use? And if it was made of veggies, was it jackfruit or something else? I wish they would be more transparent.

  • Jonas Cord

    There is a YT video out there of an animal rescue, trying to get a starving stray dog off of the freeway.
    One of the rescuers trying to use an Impossible burger as bait.

    The starving dog, who would eat feces if he smelled any food value, wasn’t having any…

  • Dana Conrad

    That’s… Not a bad thing. Most people get too much protein, way way too much, and it’s bad for your body. There are vegan body builders who do just fine. Also, Jonas cord, you’ve probably never even eaten it. You’re one of those sheep that’s told what to think and has never even tried. Probably overweight too, right?

  • Jim

    “The study was funded by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.”

    The study was funded by a pro-meat school based in an agricultural state.

  • Claire

    That’s why the protein deficiency wards in hospitals are always full of vegans 😆

  • Antoine

    This title is biased. This is a Petri dish experiment. If humans absorb less plant protein than animal protein, how come vegetarians and vegans have similar levels of blood protein than omnivores?

  • Luis

    So the title is wrong. It’s not humans, it’s human cells in an in vitro experiment. Great click bait tho! It’s a shame it’s at the expense of truth…

  • Ed Winters

    What’s with the clickbait title? Putting “humans absorb less protein” in an in vitro (petri dish) simulation is not the sort of conclusion you can draw from the actual study. The title should be “simulated digestion shows cells in petri dish absorb less protein” but I guess that’s not as good for driving traffic.

    Let’s look at circulating protein levels in actual human beings eating animal meat and plant meat substitutes, not the raw soy/wheat extrusion they produced in their lab for the study.

  • Gregg

    Less protien is not necessarily a bad thing. Most people eat too much protien. Excessive protien activates the mtor growth pathway which tells the body to grow. As we get older we don’t want the body to grow. Cancer,
    after all, is uncontrolled cellular growth. Less protien especially in your 40s, 50, and 60s extends health span and quite possibly life span

  • CC

    By “normal” meat, you mean “animal” meat…? Your bias is showing.

  • Annie

    Claire I’m a nurse and have been for over a decade, never heard of a protein deficiency ward…

  • Andreas

    Vegan is good when you getting older, I got diagnosed by doctor a cancer 6 month ago, then since that time I’ve been vegan 100%. Now after 5 month to go , then back diagnosed all my cancer disappear. Now I reluctant to eat meat anymore. I felt more healty life and without pain in my body like before. I dont need animal protein which causing many ilness to human body

  • Sekar

    What drives protein absorption in the human ecosystem?

    There are many different legumes and dals in a vegetarian diet and other sources of protein like milk and cottage cheese etc. in a vegetarian diet.

    These vegetable and plant based material used to make meat like products, need to be created exactly as the meat is produced by the mammal ecosystem —- which is being slaughtered, to fulfil the taste and hunger cravings of the consumers.

    Not being judgmental , but science has not caught up with the skills of Mother Nature yet.

    Views are personal and not binding on anyone.

  • Krystal

    So they tested only sou and gluten ! I don’t use those as my protein replacement I focus heavily on pea protein and beans … this study is wonky

  • Kathy

    Sam,Dana,Jim,and especilly Antonie that is exactly what I thought. BIAS paid for animal eaters.

  • Adam Z

    How much of a deficiency is it?

  • John

    Amazing its almost as if the human body is designed to get its protein from animals and not from chemical modified plant protiens.

    Almost as if one is a natural process and the other is artificially manufactured and not actually meat.

  • Hayden Carr

    5 years vegan still not dead from lack of protein. If you need more protein as a vegan its not hard to come by.its obvious to me. If you need more protein eat more protein 🤷🏽‍♂️

  • Nik T.

    Okay this study is about as solid as a pudding. What enzymes did they use exactly to break down the proteins? There are literally dozens and every single one does better or worse with certain proteins.
    Also chicken is one of the easiest to digest types of meat. So what about beef or bacon?
    There are so many biased statements in this study/article it hurts.

  • Malvin Thomas

    The Giants of inhumanity certainly prove the trip?

    Does that include ferments?

  • Nathan

    Unfortunately, meat is still terrible for you, so it doesn’t matter if you get more protein or not.

  • Imhotep

    Even if this study is true there is so many other unhealthy and unwanted side effects that come from eating animal flesh for protein.There is such a wide variety and abundance of plant based proteins that can supply our body with all the protein it needs.Why are people so obsessed with highly processed plant based meats to satisfy their cravings for flesh.The cars we drive come with a manual from the maker stating how to maintain the car.Let us get back to our Creator’s manual in Genesis 1:29

  • Anshu Aanand

    The joke is that this article is (sponsored) by American Chemical Society. Utter BS