We Must See Plant-Based Meat Alternatives and Beef on an Equal but Different Playing Field




By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder 

It can be difficult to keep up with all the food products that are readily accessible to us. Although it is great that we have so many options, we really need to do our research and make sure that we are getting the nutritional value we expect.

The easy way to ensure this is to never purchase a grocery item that comes packaged or canned. This means only purchasing foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood and meat from the butcher - nothing processed. I try my best to always shop this way, but just like everyone else sometimes I am curious to try certain products at the grocery store. And as someone who tries to eat meat in moderation, all of the alternative meat products out there that look and bleed like beef have really caught my interest in particular. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Also called “near-meats,” the ingredients in these products often consist of pea, mung bean and rice proteins as well as red beet, berries and carrot extracts in order to mimic that bloodiness of beef.

“Plant-based meat substitutes taste and chew remarkably similar to real beef, and the 13 items listed on their nutrition labels—vitamins, fats and protein—make them seem essentially equivalent,” according to a recent Medical Xpress report

But it turns out, “essentially equivalent” is not quite as equivalent as we may think. The report also discusses a study led by researchers at Duke University who analyzed the nutritional content of plant-based meat alternatives. The researchers used the science of “metabolomics” for their analysis.

“The metabolites that the scientists measured are building blocks of the body's biochemistry, crucial to the conversion of energy, signaling between cells, building structures and tearing them down, and a host of other functions,” reports Medical Xpress.

“There are expected to be more than 100,000 of these molecules in biology and about half of the metabolites circulating in human blood are estimated to be derived from our diets.”

Difference in metabolites.

The researchers looked at 18 samples of popular plant-based meat alternatives and compared them to 18 grass-fed ground beef samples that came from a farm in Idaho. After thoroughly examining 36 “carefully cooked” patties, they discovered that 171 out of 190 metabolites that they measured varied between the meat alternatives and the beef.

Here is more detail on the differences found:

  • The beef had 22 metabolites that the plant alternatives did not.
  • The plant alternatives had 31 metabolites that the beef did not.
  • “Several metabolites known to be important to human health were found either exclusively or in greater quantities in beef, including creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA,” reports Medical Xpress. (Read more about creatine here).

The metabolites more present in beef are important to physiological, anti-inflammatory and immune system function. This is important for muscle and brain health as well as other organs. This isn’t to say, however, that the metabolites more present in the plant meat alternatives are not very valuable. The plant-based meat alternatives contained more phytosterols (which are important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels) and phenols (strong antioxidants which help fight inflammation).

"It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that's not to say that one is better than the other," said lead researcher Stephan van Vliet.

"Plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients."

Equal but different

So we can’t eat these meat alternatives and believe that we are getting exactly what is found in actual meat. It may seem that way because of the way that they look and are marketed to us, but we have to be proactive and really know what is in these products. If you are not a meat-eater (particularly if you follow a vegan diet), it is always good to consult with a competent healthcare practitioner who can help you avoid nutritional deficiencies and imbalances that may occur from eliminating large food groups from your diet. A common deficiency for people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet is a lack of vitamin B12

And whether you eat meat or not, I always highly recommend taking routine nutrient tests in order to determine any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. The majority of us are not nutritionally balanced, and with the right medical advice we can fix this through dietary changes and taking quality supplements.


Enjoy your healthy life!

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.                                     


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here. 


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