First-ever clinical study affirms health benefit of Beyond Meat over animal protein: scientist explains

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First-ever clinical study affirms health benefit of Beyond Meat over animal protein - We The World Magazine
Image courtesy of Marco Verch via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

A clinical study undertaken by Stanford University confirms the health benefits of plant-based meat made by Beyond Meat, in first-in-kind research where the plant-based option was pitted against the health benefits of animal meat.

While this is not the first time a plant-based product was piqued against animal protein to compare the health benefits of the two, this study undertaken by one of the U.S.’s most formidable medical schools establishes the already understood equation – that plant-based foods at large are a healthier option than animal-based meat similar products.

Through the study, the team at Stanford Medicine measured the levels of a molecule, trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, in the body which is linked to the risk of heart diseases.

The study

The “SWAP-Meat Study” now published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involved 36 healthy individuals whose diets were altered for a total period of 16 days.

Two diets were fabricated for the group divided into two – one diet called for at least two daily servings of meat, particularly red meat, and the other diet replaced animal meat with Beyond Meat for the same time-frame.

It must be noted, the study was an “unrestricted gift from Beyond Meat” where the team of researchers led by Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center used Beyond Meat products solely for the outcomes.

However, Beyond Meat was not involved in designing and fabricating the research process, the Standford team behind the study says in a statement sent to WeTheWorld Magazine.

To find what?

There has been a number of research commenting on the health benefits of a plant-based diet or reduced meat diet over a diet heavy in animal proteins and products.

Most of the time, plant-based diets have proven to have an edge over meat-heavy diets when it comes to heart health, among others. Since animal proteins tend to increase “bad” cholesterol, they inadvertently pose a cardiovascular risk.

Here, in this study, Dr. Gardner and his team focused solely on TMAO levels associated with the two diets, which he says is “an emerging risk factor.”

It is not yet clear if an increased TMAO in the body poses a risk to cardiovascular health, nonetheless, Gardner feels there must be increased scrutiny on the matter.

In the past, some studies have noted higher TMAO levels were consistent with increased inflammation and blood clotting, among other health benefits.

What was found?

After eight days of eating non-veg diets, half of the participants developed higher levels of TMAO in the follow-up tests, the team has found. But those who ate the plant-based meat in the same time-frame, they did not show such raise.

“It was pretty shocking; we had hypothesized that it wouldn’t matter what order the diets were in,” Gardner said.

It must be noted, plant-based meat alternatives, like the ones offered by Beyond Meat, has been in the past called out for its higher levels of saturated fats and sodium, coming from processed ingredients used in such foods.

And all these, similar to animal meat, has been linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, Gardner acknowledged. But the outcome was a pleasant surprise for the researchers.

“It turns out that there are bacterial species responsible for the initial step of creating TMAO in the gut. These species are thought to flourish in people whose diets are red-meat heavy, but perhaps not in those who avoid meat,” Gardner said.

People in the study who were nearly made to eat a vegetarian diet for eight days provided no resources to the TMAO-manufacturing gut bacterias, inadvertently leading to the lower levels of the same.

The plant-based eaters also lost their levels of “bad cholesterol” up to 10 milligrams per deciliter, which Gardner says is clinically significant. They also lost weight – 2 pounds on average – which was a pleasant surprise.

“I think this indicates the importance of diet quality. Not all highly processed foods are created equal,” a researcher said.

More studies will be needed to determine if this type of diet can be materialized into a strategy to combat cardiovascular disease, Stanford University statement says.

The meat vs non-meat rhetoric

“As a vegetarian of almost/going on 40 years, and a nutrition scientist of almost / going on 30 years (got my Ph.D. in 1993), I have found the science in the area of meat vs. non-meat consumption supports reducing meat intake in the US to levels much lower than is currently consumed, to a level that is much closer to the global level of meat consumption, or lower, for maximizing optimal health (the US consumes more meat per capita than almost every country in the world), Gardner said in an email questionnaire sent to WeTheWorld Magazine.

“This is not a new message, and it has been a consistent health message from health professionals for decades. But we haven’t been having much of an impact on dietary behavioral practices with our health messages,” he added.

Prof. Dr. Christopher D Gardner acknowledged the complexities that play underneath food choices which includes “familiarity, culture, cost, convenience, health….and TASTE).”

The push is to start the change

One after the other market players are coming and shaping the vegan meat alternative sector with superior products. These products, including the one by Beyond Meat, offers improved look, taste, texture, and smell of real meat – factors that prevent people from transiting to a less meat diet.

“Therefore, I am willing to acknowledge that these new products are one of the tools that we need to use to move the country forward in decreasing meat consumption. And we need dozens of other tools,” Gardner told.

Products like Beyond Meat (and other brands) have been questioned for claims on health-benefits, where critics have argued these foods are highly processed, are equivalent to animal protein, and offer no extra health benefits.

But the “SWAP-meat study” sheds light on a number of these claims.

Having been published by America’s top nutrition journal, a peer-reviewed paper, this study confirmed three health benefits after switching to Beyond meat (plant-based meat) from red meat, which is -Environmental benefits, Animal rights/welfare benefits, AND Health benefits.

“There were no harms found for the Beyond meat relative to the Animal meat. There were no benefits found for Animal meat vs. Beyond Meat,” he said.

Gardner said this is the first-in-kind of such a venture, and that there should be more such studies on this.

A scientist, 40-years-vegetarian says

… to eat more whole foods, lentil salad, wheat berry salad, grilled portabella mushrooms, steel cut oats with berries and walnuts.

“I see the value of the plant-based alternative meats fitting in the bigger picture, and I am pleased with this point that they seem to be making a meaningful difference in getting some people to cut back on meat consumption,” Gardner told WeTheWorld Magazine.

“I also would advise against tempeh twice a day, or hummus twice/day, or avocados twice/day. Having something twice a day leaves less room for variety in your diet, and a healthy vegan diet should include variety.”