The body may absorb less protein from plant-based “meat” than from chicken breast

The protein in meat substitutes made with wheat and soybeans may be absorbed less from the small intestine into the bloodstream than protein from chicken breast.


June 22 2022

In a lab experiment, proteins in meat substitutes (left) were less well absorbed by gut cells than proteins in chicken breasts (right)

In a lab experiment, proteins in meat substitutes (left) were not absorbed by gut cells as well as proteins in chicken breasts (right).

Adapted from Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2022

Dietary protein from plant-based meat alternatives may not be absorbed as well as protein from chicken breast.

“This work opens the door to the nutritional properties of plant-based meat alternatives,” he says. Da Chen And the Osvaldo Campanella, who led the research at Ohio State University. Chen now works at the University of Idaho.

In their laboratory experiment, Chen, Campanella and their colleagues grew a layer of human gut cells on scaffolding that divides many dishes into two chambers. They then used enzymes from the stomach and small intestine to digest a plant-based substitute for meat and cooked chicken breast, before adding each digested product to a single compartment in each dish.

Next, the team measured the amount of protein fragments — or peptides — that passed through the gut cell layer to reach the corresponding chamber in each dish, representing protein uptake through the gut.

Within four hours of adding it to the dish, which is the longest typical transit time for food in the small intestine, about 2 percent less protein from the plant-based meat substitute was transported through the gut cells, compared to protein from chicken breast. Although there was little difference in the percentage, the statistical analysis indicates that this result was not accidental.

Thus, eating meat alternatives may result in less protein absorption through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Researchers have not evaluated whether this reduced absorption leads to protein deficiency.

In the second part of the experiment, the team analyzed the peptides of digested foods, discovering that protein fragments from chicken breast are smaller and more water-soluble than meat substitute peptides.

“It has been shown that peptides are of smaller and higher sizes [solubility] It can be transferred more easily through [these gut] Campanella and Chen say.

However, the laboratory model is a very simplified version of the gut that lacks the mucus lining found in the body, they say.

“In the gut, the peptides need to cross the mucosal layer … to act as a filter … before they reach the cells of the intestinal epithelium. [We tested protein absorption] Without looking at the layer of mucus,” the husband says.

Protein absorption may also vary in the large intestine, where food can remain for up to 24 hours, a time frame that was not evaluated in the trial.

Furthermore, protein absorption from plant-based meat substitutes and meat other than chicken breast depends on individual protein composition and processing.

Despite their findings, the team stresses that plant-based meat alternatives may be a good source of protein.

“Although plant-based meat alternatives have fewer peptides that are absorbed, they still provide a good amino acid profile and can be an appropriate supplement to a balanced diet,” Campanella and Chen say.

Researchers are now working to improve the nutrition absorbed by plant-based meat alternatives.

“Plant foods must be carefully designed to ensure that they have similar or better nutritional characteristics than animal-based ones,” he says. David Julian McClements at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Journal reference: Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry And the DOI:

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