According to a new study, chicken outperforms a meat alternative in the ability of human cells to absorb protein. Photo by Michael J. Bennett/Wikimedia Commons
June 22 (UPI) — The popularity of plant-based foods is likely boosted by research touting its nutritional value and even anti-cancer properties. But a new study suggests that when it comes to protein intake at the human cellular level, an American staple, chicken, surpasses it.
It is according to a study published Wednesday in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Soy and other protein-rich plants are common ingredients in plant-based foods, but it’s unclear how much of the nutrient makes its way through human cells, researchers from the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University in a news release.
Da Chen, who was the lead author of the study, is a former postdoctoral student at the university. He is now an assistant professor of food science at the University of Idaho.
“Our in vitro tests have shown that the essential amino acid profile of meat analogs after digestion and absorption is slightly lower than that of chicken. But the profile is still suitable and can complement a balanced and healthy human diet,” Chen said. at UPI.
“By changing the formulation and processing conditions, meat substitutes with better texture and nutrition could be obtained,” he said.
He noted that the research was based on “a meat analogue formulation” and that protein nutrition may be different in meat substitutes “with different formulations and different processing conditions”.
Also, Chen said, “the in vitro study could not 100% reflect what happens to proteins in vivo,” that is, in the human body. So extending the study to human participation “is part of our future research plans,” he said.
Wayne Campbell, a professor of nutritional sciences at Purdue University, described by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Nutritional Research as a “protein expert”, said the new study is “an important first step” in understanding nutritional values.
“These types of studies are very useful and need to be done to understand the transition from dietary protein sources in traditional foods to dietary protein sources from manufactured foods,” Campbell said.
To create meat substitutes, protein-rich botanicals are dehydrated into a powder, seasonings are added, and usually mixtures are heated, moistened, and processed without the unwanted fats found in meat.
Already, lab tests have shown that the proteins in meat substitutes don’t break down into peptides as well as meat proteins, the scientists said.
But their new study went further to determine whether human cells can absorb similar amounts of peptides from a meat alternative and a piece of chicken.
The researchers created a model meat alternative made from soy and wheat gluten that looked like chicken on the inside with long, fibrous pieces, produced by high-moisture extrusion (expelling moisture).
Cooked chunks of the substitute and chicken breast have been ground up and broken down with an enzyme that humans use to digest food.
Subsequently, according to the researchers, in vitro tests showed that the peptides of their meat substitute were less soluble in water than those of chicken and less well absorbed by human cells.
Given this finding, they said, the next step is to identify other ingredients that may help increase the absorption of peptides from plant-based meat substitutes.