Meat Substitutes

October 22, 2013 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Recently, a reader asked for my opinion about so-called meat substitutes. Since the topic of vegetarian alternatives to meat is rather complex and nuanced, I’ve decided to write about my answer on this site. But, before I offer my perspective, I want to make it clear that I’m exclusively focusing on the nutritional aspects of the issue. I’ll leave the ecological and philosophical arguments for other commentators and forums.

In my opinion, both animal and plant-based protein sources possess certain pros and cons. In the negative column, eggs, fish and meat can contain unwanted drug residues, manufacturing by-products and naturally occurring toxins. Likewise, legumes and nuts are known to accumulate herbicides, pesticides and other environmental toxins, while also containing select phytochemicals with anti-nutrient and goitrogenic properties. On the plus side, carnivorous options tend to have a higher “protein efficiency ratio” (PER) and greater nutrient density. On the other hand, vegetarian foods contain antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals which are generally absent in animal protein. This, in part, explains why I believe a combination of animal and plant foods is typically ideal – each group brings something distinctive and complementary to the table.

Two new studies illustrate the value of incorporating more plant based foods or ingredients in an omnivorous diet. In the first, scientists from the University of Missouri found that adding up 5% citrus fiber to ground meat (meatballs) is a palatable way of getting 5 or more grams of soluble fiber per serving. The health benefits of adequate fiber intake include improved blood sugar, weight control and prevention of constipation. A separate study, appearing in the September 2013 issue of the journal Appetite, reports that regularly replacing red meat with mushrooms lowers overall caloric intake and results in lasting improvements in blood pressure, body fat and inflammatory markers. These studies and others, which have used ingredients such as onions, plum puree and poppy seeds, reveal that a combination of animal and plant ingredients can make traditional meat-laden meals healthier.

Now that you know my thoughts, let me address what I would expressly avoid. In my opinion, highly processed soy and wheat-based protein sources are not a good idea. Examples include soy protein concentrate or isolate, and seitan or wheat gluten. These products are frequently allergenic and genetically modified. Instead, if you decide to only have plant-based protein, I would opt for whole food sources such as organic legumes, nuts and seeds. Certain natural processing techniques, including cooking with vinegar, soaking and sprouting render these foods easier to digest and more nutritious. If additional protein is needed, a recent study indicates that organic brown rice protein powder equals the protein efficiency ratio of whey protein. This is a new and surprising revelation, which may be of great benefit for vegans, vegetarians and all those interested in reducing their consumption of animal protein.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Meatball Meet Orange: Want Fiber in Your Fast Food? Add Some (link)

Study 2 – Positive Effect of Mushrooms Substituted for Meat on Body Weight (link)

Study 3 – Effect of Ground Poppy Seed as a Fat Replacer on Meat Burgers … (link)

Study 4 – Effects of Using Plum Puree on Some Properties of Low Fat Beef Patties… (link)

Study 5 – Antioxidant Properties of Dried Plum Ingredients in Raw & Precooked (link)

Study 6 – Effect of Fat Replacement by Inulin or Lupin-Kernel Fibre on Sausage (link)

Study 7 – Quality of Low-Fat Meatballs Containing Legume Flours as Extenders ... (link)

Study 8 – Dietary Purines in Vegetarian Meat Analogues (link)

Study 9 – An Evaluation of the Phytate, Zinc, Copper, Iron and Manganese (link)

Study 10 – The Effects of 8 Weeks of Whey or Rice Protein Supplementation (link)

High Fiber Diets Support Weight Loss

Source: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jan;21(1):58-64. (link)

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Posted in Diet and Weight Loss, Food and Drink, Nutrition

2 Comments & Updates to “Meat Substitutes”

  1. JP Says:

    Update: Substituting some meat with mushrooms is a healthy, tasty way to reduce meat intake – though not a complete substitute …

    J Food Sci. 2014 Sep;79(9):S1795-804.

    Flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms in meat-based dishes in which sodium has been reduced and meat has been partially substituted with mushrooms.

    The effects of beef substitution with crimini or white mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) on the flavor profiles of carne asada and beef taco blends were measured with a descriptive analysis panel. Sensory mitigation of sodium reduction through the incorporation of mushrooms was also investigated in the taco blends. The substitution of beef with mushrooms in the carne asada did not alter the overall flavor strength of the dish, but the incorporation of 50% or 80% ground mushroom in the beef taco blend did enhance its overall flavor as well as mushroom, veggie, onion, garlic and earthy flavors, and umami and sweet tastes. Overall flavor intensity of the 25% reduced-salt version of the 80% mushroom taco blend matched that of the full-salt versions of the 100% and 50% beef formulations, thus indicating that the substitution of 80% of the meat with mushrooms did mitigate the 25% sodium reduction in terms of the overall flavor impact of the dish, even if it did not quite compensate for the reduction in salty taste. This proof-of-concept study for the Healthy Flavors Research Initiative indicates that because of their flavor-enhancing umami principles, mushrooms can be used as a healthy substitute for meat and a mitigating agent for sodium reduction in meat-based dishes without loss of overall flavor.

    Be well!


  2. JP Says:

    Update: Legume and meat substitutes, both rich in protein, may reduce fracture risk …

    Public Health Nutr. 2014 Oct;17(10):2333-43.

    Legumes and meat analogues consumption are associated with hip fracture risk independently of meat intake among Caucasian men and women: the Adventist Health Study-2.

    OBJECTIVE: In contrast to non-vegetarians, vegetarians consume more legumes and meat analogues as sources of protein to substitute for meat intake. The present study aimed to assess the association between foods with high protein content (legumes, meat, meat analogues) by dietary pattern (vegetarians, non-vegetarians) and hip fracture incidence, adjusted for selected lifestyle factors.

    DESIGN: A prospective cohort of Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) enrollees who completed a comprehensive lifestyle and dietary questionnaire between 2002 and 2007.

    SETTING: Every two years after enrolment, a short questionnaire on hospitalizations and selected disease outcomes including hip fractures was sent to these members.

    SUBJECTS: Respondents (n 33 208) to a baseline and a follow-up questionnaire.

    RESULTS: In a multivariable model, legumes intake of once daily or more reduced the risk of hip fracture by 64 % (hazard ratio = 0·36, 95 % CI 0·21, 0·61) compared with those with legumes intake of less than once weekly. Similarly, meat intake of four or more times weekly was associated with a 40 % reduced risk of hip fracture (hazard ratio = 0·60, 95 % CI 0·41, 0·87) compared with those whose meat intake was less than once weekly. Furthermore, consumption of meat analogues once daily or more was associated with a 49 % reduced risk of hip fracture (hazard ratio = 0·51, 95 % CI 0·27, 0·98) compared with an intake of less than once weekly.

    CONCLUSIONS: Hip fracture incidence was inversely associated with legumes intake and, to a lesser extent, meat intake, after accounting for other food groups and important covariates. Similarly, a high intake of meat analogues was associated with a significantly reduced risk of hip fracture.

    Be well!


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