Nutrition in the News: Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body?

Nutrition in the News: Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body? Apparently not!

On 23rd September 2022 the Journal of Nutritional Science published the results of a small size clinical study comparing the outcome on inflammatory markers when following a plant based meat diet to an animal meat diet.

And the results were not what the authors of the study were expecting; as the report stated, “these results do not support our hypothesis that biomarkers of inflammation would improve during the plant-based meat diet”.

Let’s explore the details and why I believe the plant based meat did not deliver the improved scores they were expecting.

Study Details

Nutrition in the News Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body

This was a limited study over 8 weeks with just 36 healthy adults. The average age was 50 with 67% women. They had no underlying health conditions. In the time before the study, they were not excluding any particular food groups from their diets.

The study was split into two eight week groups and measurements of inflammatory markers were taken at the start of the trial, at 8 weeks and 16 weeks. Each group of participants were asked to consume two or more servings of plant based meats per day for 8 weeks, followed by 2 or more servings of animal meats per day for 8 weeks or vice versa.  Each serving size was 3-4 oz. 

Whilst the participant’s total calorie and macronutrient intake was similar, other than the controlled meat types provided, the diets rest of diet was self-selected. 

Which “Meats” were consumed?

Nutrition in the News Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body

The beef was grass fed. Some meat was in the processed form of beef burgers or pork sausages, but the rest was either unprocessed beef mince or chicken breast.

The plant meat was provided by Beyond Meat, but I wish to stress that I don’t believe it was solely due to the manufacturer as all plant based meats have to be processed in order to form a meat type product.

The plant protein came mainly from pea (this is a useful protein source that I often use in smoothies). There were a number of ingredients with significant levels of sodium and using cheap seeds oils that are known to be pro-inflammatory (canola and sunflower oil).

The oils were listed third on the packaging ingredient list, but did not specify the amount. It’s worth noting and understanding that by law, the ingredients are listed in order of quantity included in the product. The higher up the list, the greater the quantity in the product.

Trial Outcomes

Nutrition in the News Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body

The trial measured a broad range of inflammatory markers such as TMAO, C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and several interleukins (inflammatory messengers).

There was no statistical difference in the biomarkers comparing baseline and the outcomes after following each type of meat diet for 8 weeks.

My thoughts

Nutrition in the News Is Plant Based Meat better than Animal Meat for lowering inflammation in the body

I realise that a limited study of just 36 adults following each diet for just 8 weeks cannot provide a long-term, reliable picture of which type of diet is better from a cardiovascular inflammatory risk perspective. However, it is a start.

A plant-based diet does not necessarily mean it is healthy. 

A diet high in vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and seeds is a natural diet, but in this study, the consumption of plant-based meats twice a day is a high intake of ultra-processed foods containing too much sodium and cheap seed oils (canola and sunflower). 

There is a growing concern that a diet high in seed oils is pro-inflammatory.

The animal meat diet contained some ultra-processed food in sausages and burgers but also included unprocessed meat like beef mince and chicken breast. 

Whilst animal meat may be higher in saturated fat, there is growing research to show that this is not a major contributor of cardiovascular disease.

Highly processed foods are associated with increased weight gain and an increased risk for a number of leading chronic health conditions.

The plant-based meat products used in the study fit the definition of ‘ultra-processed’ foods due to a number of added ingredients used to enhance the flavour and texture of the meats.

As the authors stated: “An overall healthy, plant-based diet (without processed fake meats) may have yielded different results, since the focus of plant-based diets is to maximise the consumption of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and seeds, while minimising the consumption of processed foods and animal foods.”

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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