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Unpacking the nutrient profiles of new-age plant-based foods: Are they really healthier?

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Unpacking the nutrient profiles of new-age plant-based foods: Are they really healthier?

In a recent study published in Food Research International, researchers explore the nutrient profiles of next-generation plant-based foods.

Study: Designing healthier plant-based foods: Fortification, digestion, and bioavailability. Image Credit: marilyn barbone / Shutterstock.com

Is a plant-based food plan higher?

Consumers are increasingly adopting plant-based diets on account of concerns regarding the environmental, health, and ethical effects of animal-sourced foods reminiscent of meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Animal-based foods have a detrimental impact on the environment on account of their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, land usage, water usage, deforestation, pollution, and biodiversity loss.

While many consider that a plant-based food plan is superior to at least one that features animal products, this is just not at all times true. Consuming fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole-grain cereals has been related to higher health outcomes; nonetheless, it stays unclear whether the newer plant-based foods, reminiscent of meat, seafood, egg, and dairy alternatives, are healthier than the products they aim to exchange.

Comparing the dietary profiles of animal- and plant-based foods

Meat

The researchers of the present study compared the dietary content of a typical chicken nugget to 2 plant-based alternatives. Plant-based chicken nugget analogs had lower fat, calorie, and saturated fat content and a better dietary fiber content than real chicken nuggets.

Each plant-based and real chicken nuggets’ carbohydrate, protein, and sodium levels were comparable. Overall, plant-based chicken nuggets may offer health advantages as in comparison with real chicken nuggets on account of their lower fat, calorie, and saturated fat content.

Fish

Like meat, fish is a great source of high-quality protein that is well digestible and incorporates all essential amino acids. Nevertheless, real and plant-based salmon products differ significantly of their macronutrient and micronutrient profiles. For instance, the dietary value of plant-based salmon is just not as desirable as real salmon on account of its lower protein content and better sodium levels and calories.

Nevertheless, plant-based salmon has higher amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, and iron, potentially providing health advantages for humans. Notably, plant-based salmon products might not be suitable for people who need high protein levels of their food plan.

Eggs

Eggs are a preferred food alternative throughout the world on account of their high protein and nutrient content. Plant-based eggs have macronutrient profiles just like real eggs, with comparable lipid and protein contents.

Nevertheless, these products contain barely higher calorie and carbohydrate contents. Moreover, the micronutrient content of natural and plant-based eggs differ remarkably. For instance, plant-based products exhibit higher zinc and iron content than real eggs, which is useful to health. Nevertheless, these alternative egg products even have higher sodium composition, which could have hostile effects on hypertension patients.  

Milk and dairy products

Business plant-based dairy products have various compositions that rely on their formulation. Plant-based milk is made through either a top-down method, which involves grinding up plant materials like oats, nuts, or soybeans, or a bottom-up method, which involves homogenization of emulsifiers, plant-based oils, and water.

Top-down methods of manufacturing plant-based milk, like oat, almond, or soy milk, generally contain fewer calories as in comparison with cow’s milk. Although these milk products may not have all of the micronutrients present in cow’s milk, they’re ceaselessly enriched with nutrients reminiscent of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, the bottom-up technique could be used to create plant-based milk that closely resembles the composition of natural milk.

Plant-based cheese products lack protein as in comparison with natural cheeses, which consist of 14% to 30% protein. Plant-based cheeses even have a better carbohydrate content, primarily in the shape of starch, which is utilized to create a cheese-like consistency. Moreover, plant-based cheeses have higher sodium levels than real cheese, which can pose a health risk for people with hypertension.

Health effects of a plant-based food plan

In keeping with epidemiological research, vegans and vegetarians have lower rates of chronic diseases reminiscent of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart problems, cancer, and arthritis than meat eaters.

Despite the potential health benefits of a more plant-based food plan, a vegan or totally vegetarian food plan can have significant disadvantages, especially for young children, pregnant women, and elderly individuals. Essential amino acids, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, zinc, calcium, and iron could also be insufficient in plant-based diets, as they’re found predominantly in foods originating from animals, reminiscent of meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.

In keeping with several dietary studies, children raised on a purely vegan food plan are likely to be shorter and thinner than those raised on a normal omnivorous food plan, and severe malnutrition may occasionally develop. Thus, a well-balanced plant-based food plan with supplements may help prevent these unfavorable dietary and health effects.

Conclusions

Consumers are increasingly adopting plant-based diets on account of environmental and health-related concerns. In consequence, the food industry must develop plant-based foods that contain essential macronutrients and micronutrients to deal with potential deficiencies in vegan or vegetarian diets. Nevertheless, plant-based foods could be fortified with health-promoting ingredients reminiscent of dietary fibers and nutraceuticals, which usually are not commonly present in animal products.

Further research is required to know the digestive technique of plant-based foods and their effects on human health and nutrition.

Journal reference:

  • McClements, I. F., & McClements, D. J. (2023). Designing healthier plant-based foods: Fortification, digestion, and bioavailability. Food Research International 169. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2023.112853

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