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Metabolomics in Meat and Meat Alternatives

A lab analysis finds different nutritional components.

Graphic showing difference of metabolomics in meat vs. meat alternatives

An in-depth examination by a research team at Duke University of the nutritional content of plant-based meat alternatives and real meat, using metabolomics, shows they are as different as, well, plants and animals.

Metabolomics is a sophisticated measurement of small molecules, commonly known as metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms. These are considered the building blocks of the body’s biochemistry.

Beef contained 22 metabolites that the plant substitute did not, including creatine and glucosamine. The plant-based substitute contained 31 metabolites that were absent in meat including phytosterols. The greatest distinctions occurred in amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, and types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids found in these products. For the comparison, 18 samples of a popular plant-based meat alternative and 18 grass-fed ground beef samples from a ranch in Idaho were analyzed in the lab.

Many components of nutrition do not appear on food labels, and once you peek behind the curtain you’ll see how meat and the new wave of meat alternatives appear to differ widely, says the study in Scientific Reports.  In total, 171 out of the 190 metabolites measured varied between the beef and the plant-based meat substitute.

The researchers believe that this suggests plant and animal foods can be complementary in the diet, because they provide different compounds that are important for human health. What is needed are investigations to determine whether there are short-term or long-term health effects of the presence or absence of particular metabolites in meat and meat impostors.

See also: Plant-Based Meat Substitutes on the Rise


Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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