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The Chalmers University of Technology has found that plant-based meat substitutes need the nutrients that meat does. Climate change has been a big topic of discussion in current years, with scientists blaming beef farming for harming the planet. As a result, more people have been shifting to plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible burger and Beyond Meats as they have similar tastes and textures to actual meat. However, researchers in Sweden now say that the human body cannot absorb nutrients from these substitutes, thus leaving people with iron deficiencies.

Other studies have shown that vegetarian diets positively impact health by reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Yet, despite this claim, few researchers have evaluated the impact of meat substitutes on the body.

How researchers conducted the study

The research team evaluated 44 eat substitutes in Sweden for the study. These substitutes contain tempeh, pea protein, soy, and mycoproteins, which are proteins from fungi. After examining them, they found that the replacements lack the nutrient value of actual meat.

According to Cecilia Mayer Labba, a senior study author, they saw that the nutrient value in the substitutes was high and that they were sustainable. However, the absorption of iron and zinc was low. The reason was that the products contained high anti-nutrients and phytates that inhibit nutrient absorption.

Phytates prevent the absorption of zinc and iron

The researchers explain that phytates naturally occur in cereals and beans. When manufacturers extract protein from these food sources to make meat substitutes, they accumulate. Unfortunately, phytates create insoluble compounds with zinc and non-heme iron in the gut. For this reason, the intestines are unable to absorb them, making meat substitutes nutritionally empty.

 Labba points out that iron and zinc also accumulate during the extraction process hence why the manufacturers list high levels of the micronutrients. Despite this, they bind to phytates; therefore, the body can’t absorb them.

Researchers also add that iron deficiency is a serious issue among women worldwide. Moreover, it is an even bigger problem among those who choose not to eat red meat, the main iron source. Therefore, the team believes that food processors should ensure their meat substitutes can meet nutritional requirements.