While plant-based burgers, sausage, chicken nuggets and other imitation meats have gotten a bad rap as being little more than ultraprocessed stand-ins for the real stuff, a British study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Foods suggests less meat and more vegan meat impersonators might be good for the gut microbiota.
Forty participants between the ages of 18 and 55 were followed for 4 weeks. One intervention group replaced at least four meat-containing meals per week with meals cooked with plant-based meat alternatives. (The study used products from a vegan brand called Meatless Farm.) The other group continued eating a diet with daily meat, eggs and dairy. In comparing the changes in the composition and functionality of gut microbiota via stool samples, the investigators discovered that the diet with the plant-based meats resulted in a positive shift in bacteria toward more beneficial micro-organisms and away from potentially detrimental ones.
The study authors surmise that the greater intake in fiber and plant polyphenols that occurred with the consumption of meatless products was the main catalyst behind this microbiome population change. They note that this uptick in fiber was also likely the cause of that group’s improved bowel movements, as well as higher rates of gas and bloating. Whether the observed gut bacteria shift is enough to bring on any positive health changes is not known.
See also: Food Choices for Gut Microbiome Health