A new study has found red meat is a better source of protein than a processed plant-based alternative.
Findings from a human clinical trial undertaken for the Pasture Raised Advantage research programme found that meat delivers more of the essential protein building blocks.
The four-stage multidisciplinary project is exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of eating pasture-raised beef and lamb as part of a balanced diet, compared to grain-finished beef or a plant-based alternative.
The research is a collaboration between AgResearch, the University of Auckland, Massey University and the Riddet Institute.
In this first of two clinical trials, 30 participants aged 20-34 years were fed breakfast on four different days and their blood, digestive symptoms and mood were monitored for four hours immediately following the meal.
Breakfast was a burrito with a single serving of a different protein each day; pasture-raised beef, grain-finished beef, lamb and a plant-based alternative – served in random order to each participant across the four days.
Dr Andrea Braakhuis from the University of Auckland heads up the team of nutrition scientists responsible for the study.
“We measured the nutrients in the blood of the participants and saw a significant difference in the type and amounts of amino acids that come from the digestion of the protein of red meat compared to the protein of the processed meat alternative,” Braakhuis says.
“Amino acids from red meat were of greater biological value and better absorbed by the body.”
Braakhuis says these clinical outcomes reflect the results of laboratory experiments carried out on the same foods by Massey University (led by Dr Lovedeep Kaur).
Red meat was better digested in the laboratory simulator conditions than the plant-based alternative.
“Our project is showing that red meat is probably a better source of protein for the body than highly processed plant-based products promoted as meat alternatives.”
AgResearch senior scientist Dr Scott Knowles says the new generation of plant-based meat analogues are formulated to mimic the taste and basic nutrient composition of meat.
“But very little is known yet about their nutritional quality and health benefits.
“Plant-based alternatives are produced very differently from pasture-raised livestock and they’re marketed as having advantages in environmental footprint and sustainability. Those credentials are still being scrutinised. However, we know for certain that New Zealand farmers are producing a highly nutritious food in one of the most efficient production systems in the world.”
A second clinical trial, nearing completion, is looking at the longer-term impacts of eating a diet that includes moderate amounts of red meat.
The research is funded by the industry partners Meat Industry Association of New Zealand Innovation Ltd, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Ltd, the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Results from the first clinical trial have been published in an international journal, Current Developments in Nutrition. The results of the current trial will be published next year.