The health impacts of animal meat consumption have upraised countless concerns within the scientific community and public consumers. Meat-borne diseases are also allied with meat consumption. Demand for plant-based meat alternatives has grown radically in recent times as we are witnessing an exceptional growth of plant-based meat (PBM) products in the market. This drift is driven by many factors including sustainability, and consumer shifts towards flexitarian diets. However, there is no information regarding the nutritional profile of PBM when compared to similar animal-based meat products.
A common misbelief is that those who do not eat sufficient animal-based foods will become protein deficient. Further, mistaken reason plant-based proteins are believed to be nutritionally inadequate (lack essential amino acids). Additionally, animal-based proteins are believed to be nutritionally superior as they hold more essential amino acids per serving and better gastrointestinal bioavailability. Quantity and quality of the protein are the two major points in PBM products.
In plant-based meat, not all sources of nutrients are the same. Animal-based foods like milk or meat are abundant in certain essential nutrients that are easily absorbed by the human body. The same nutrients are available in the majority of the plants but sometimes be less available to the human body to get digested and absorbed. Hence, nutrients bioavailability especially amino acid bioavailability must be considered when consuming plant-based meat.
The most important concern about the protein ingredients in PBM is that sources are generally limited in one or more essential amino acids that are central for human body functions. Therefore, plant-derived proteins are stated as ‘incomplete’.
Amino acid bioavailability is expressed as the proportion of amino acids that are absorbed and incorporated into body protein metabolism. It mainly depends on the amino acid availability and digestibility. The amino acid content is a limitation to plant protein bioavailability.
Plant-based protein isolates, specifically from individual plant sources like soy, wheat, and pea are the main ingredients of PBM which are incomplete (lack essential amino acids). The most common limited essential amino acids in plant-based proteins are lysine (limited in cereals), methionine, cysteine (limited in Soy, Pea, Lentils, Beans), tryptophan (limited in cereals).
However, combining various plant-based proteins (Protein complementation) from different resources Soya protein, Pea protein, Moong Bean protein, Chickpea protein, Urad lentil, Black-eyed bean protein, Flex Seed, Sunflower seed, and Hydrolysed vegetable proteins provides a more favourable and healthy amino acid profile that includes all essential amino acids. Blends of diverse plant-based protein isolates can provide protein characteristics that closely reflect the typical characteristics of animal-based proteins (Texture, taste, and nutrition).
Many plant-based meat/food start-ups are using a limited number of plant protein resources that cause the deficit in essential amino acids in the meat substitutes, which doesn’t serve the nutrition purpose.
Due to the combined efforts of the public media, consumer awareness and acceptance of PBM continues to rise. As the awareness progresses, the market for PBM products will grow undeniably.