Research in New Zealand has found that red meat still trumps processed plant-based alternatives when it comes to nutrition.
The study – funded by the Meat Industry Association of New Zealand which represents red meat processors, marketers and exporters – explores pasture-raised beef and lamb’s health and well-being benefits compared to grain-finished beef or plant-based proteins.
In its first clinical trials, 30 participants aged between 20 and 34 years were fed a burrito for breakfast on four different days, and their blood, digestive symptoms, and mood were monitored for four hours immediately following their meal.
The breakfast burrito contained a single serving of a different protein each day: grain-finished beef, pasture-raised beef, lamb, and a plant-based protein, all served randomly to each participant across those four days.
Dr Andrea Braakhuis, the lead author of the study from the University of Auckland, shared that upon observation, amino acids from red meat were of “greater biological value” and were absorbed better by the body.
“We measured the nutrients in the blood of the participants and saw a significant difference in the type and amounts of amino acids that come from the digestion of the protein of red meat compared to the protein of the processed meat alternative,” she said.
Dr Scott Knowles, co-researcher from AgResearch, added that the newer generation of plant-based meat analogues was formulated to mimic the taste and basic nutrient composition of meat.
“But very little is known yet about their nutritional quality and health benefits,” he said.
While studies show that red meat still presents a greater nutritional advantage, it is not the most sustainable option.
According to research by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), farming animals is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and red meat production accounts for 41 per cent of those emissions.
The world’s population will continue to grow, and how the planet can provide enough food for everyone while preserving the environment and natural resources is critical, the organisation says.
“The need to shift to more sustainable diets and food systems is increasingly evident but certainly not simple to achieve,” says the FAO.
“Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimising natural and human resources.”
Viable.Earth’s takeaway: Plant-based alternatives aren’t perfected yet, but the demand for alt-proteins has resulted in impressive innovations in the food industry. It shows great promise, and perhaps directing efforts towards continuous improvement will help the planet move forward with a healthy and sustainable protein for everyone.