by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat substitutes

Sep 3 2020

Where are we on cell-based meat alternatives?

Let’s catch up on what’s happening with cell-based meat, so far still in development, regulated jointly by FDA (pre-harvest) and USDA (post-harvest), but not yet approved for human consumption.

I think I can wait.

Aug 20 2020

What else is happening with plant-based meat alternatives

Since writing about Christopher Gardner’s study on Monday this week, I have plant-based meats on my mind.  Here are some other recent items about the booming interest in these products.

Aug 17 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: Beyond Meat

Stanford University issued a press release to announce the results of a study comparing physiological effects of eating plant-based meat alternatives (Beyond Meat) to eating foods of animal origin.

A diet that includes an average of two servings of plant-based meat alternatives lowers some cardiovascular risk factors compared with a diet that instead includes the same amount of animal meat, Stanford Medicine scientists found.

The study:  A randomized crossover trial on the effect of plant-based compared with animal-based meat on trimethylamine-N-oxide and cardiovascular disease risk factors in generally healthy adults: Study With Appetizing Plantfood—Meat Eating Alternative Trial (SWAP-MEAT).  Crimarco A, et al.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 11, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa203

Overall conclusion: “This study found several beneficial effects and no adverse effects from the consumption of plant-based meats.”

The sponsor: “Supported by a research gift from Beyond Meat Inc. (to CDG)…Funding for this study was provided by Beyond Meat. In an effort to reduce any influences on the outcomes of this study, a statistical analysis plan was submitted to ct.gov. The main analysis was conducted by a third-party individual who had no involvement with the study design or collection of data, and was blinded to all study participants.

Comment

Ordinarily, I would simply present this study as a classic example of how industry-funded studies predictably produce results that favor the commercial interests of their sponsors, a topic to which I devoted my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

But CDG is Christopher Gardner, the study’s lead scientist, whose impressive track record of managing complicated clinical trials of diet and health I greatly admire.

Gardner describes himself as a vegan (meaning that he eats no animal products).

Knowing of my concerns about industry-funded research, he wrote me some months ago to say that this study was in the works and to point out that he has done at least six industry-funded studies with null findings (he sent me a PowerPoint slide deck to prove it).  In his correspondence, he said:

  • “I believe this is the FIRST industry funded study I’ve run that had a significant positive health finding.”
  • “Beyond Meat was not involved in design or analysis, and to this day still doesn’t know the study outcome.”
  • “I’m preparing myself for being called out as a vegan industry shill….hoping I’ve established a reputation for objectivity to withstand this 😱”
  • “PS – Hope you enjoy the study acronym (Study With Alternative Plantfood – Meat Eating Alternative Trial: SWAP-MEAT)” [Indeed I do].

OK.  So let’s take this study on its merits.

Gardner asked healthy non-vegetarian adults (36) to consume 2 servings a day of either Beyond Meat or regular meat (what the study calls Animal Meat).  The Beyond Meat and Animal Meat were provided to participants.  The rest of their diets was on their own.

For 8 weeks, they ate Beyond Meat or Animal Meat.  For the next 8 weeks, they switched over to the other kind.

Results: Participants consuming Beyond Meat displayed lower levels of

  • LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind)
  • Body weight (by 1 or 2 pounds)
  • TMAO (Trimethylamine N-oxide)—but only for those who consumed Animal Meat first and Beyond Meat second (not the other way around)

Beyond Meat may be plant-based, but it is ultraprocessed.  FoodNavigator produced a nice comparison.

Beyond Meat would dearly love to demonstrate that its ultraprocessed composition is immaterial to its health benefits.  Hence: this study.

Beyond Meat is already using it for marketing purposes: “New study finds health benefits of plant-based meats.”

As I see it, there are two issues here: (a) what else the participants were eating and (b) the significance of the TMAO measurements.

(a) The diet: This was not a controlled dietary intake trial conducted in a closed metabolic ward.  Participants were free to eat whatever they liked and how much they liked.  They lost a little weight during the Beyond Meat phase, which means they must have been eating fewer calories during that phase, as they reported (this graph is in the Supplementary material).

Reported daily calories were under 2000, which means that lots of calories must not have been reported.  So it’s hard to know what the weight loss is actually due to.

(b)  TMAO: You make TMAO after you eat foods containing choline, a compound common in animal-based foods: meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.  A 2019 editorial review in JAMA discusses the association of TMAO with heart disease risk.

Now, researchers are homing in on another possible culprit: a dietary metabolite linked to red meat called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. Three recent meta-analyses confirmed that high blood levels of TMAO are associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. One of the studies, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, found a more than 60% heightened risk of both major adverse cardiovascular events and death from all causes in people with elevated TMAO. Other research has associated higher TMAO levels with heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

On the other hand, an analysis by Dr. Bret Scher raises questions about whether TMAO has any real meaning for health (and I thank Stephen Zwick for sending this to me).

In my opinion, this is an example of a well-run study that, in the end, lends very little to our knowledge of human health….The main outcome from this intervention had to do with TMAO. Why is this problematic? Well, it has to do with the fact that small, short-term trials are unable to measure meaningful endpoints, such as who lives, dies, or who gets heart disease.  So, instead, the authors have to choose the surrogate outcome markers that they believe relate to human health.

Dr. Scher believes that “There is no convincing evidence that these results impact someone’s health.”  As Scher has discussed previously, he sees no cause-and-effect relationship between TMAO levels and health.  You can read his arguments here:

The bottom line?  This study suggests that two servings a day of Beyond Meat is unlikely to be harmful.  Whether substituting Beyond Meat for real meat is truly useful for health in the absence of other dietary changes remains to be confirmed, hopefully by independently funded research.

Mar 19 2020

What’s up with plant-based?

Here’s what I’ve collected lately on the hot topic of plant-based foods and drinks.

Cargill is now doing plant-based: Cargill Inc will launch plant-based hamburger patties and ground “fake meat” products in April, challenging Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods for sales in grocery stores, cafeterias and restaurants. [Comment: Cargill?  Really?  There must be really money in this space].

Milkadamia taking on dairy and palm: ‘Mighty dairy is being brought to its knees’:  Jindilli Beverages produces a palm and dairy-free alternative to milk, creamers and butter under its Milkadamia brand. The company’s CEO shares his views on the need to challenge the prevalence of products containing dairy and palm oil for the health of people and the planet… Read

Beyond Meat to go on the offensive in wake of attacks on ‘ultra-processed’ plant-based meat: ‘We’re proud of our ingredients and process’:  While its CEO says engaging in an increasingly heated debate over the merits of plant- vs animal-based meat can be a “zero sum” game, Beyond Meat plans to go on the offensive this year with digital and media campaigns that celebrate its ingredients and processes…. Read more

Can wineries leverage plant-based messaging to attract young drinkers?  An oversupply of wine in the US has producers rethinking their branding and marketing strategies to reach millennials and Gen Z drinkers. The Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division (SVB) advises wineries to tap into the ‘better-for-you’ trend and health-forward messaging…. Read more  [Comment: Ah, the selling of alcohol.  It never ceases to amaze].

Pea protein trend sparks allergy warning: The increased use of concentrated pea protein in products could be a factor in increased reports of allergy to peas, according to the Anaphylaxis Campaign…. Read more   [Comment: Pea protein is the leading ingredient in Beyond Burgers].

Mar 5 2020

What’s up with cell-based meats?

Artificial meats constructed from animal muscle cells are in the works but not yet on the market.  Much less is being written about them than about plant-based meats, but occasionally a few items surface.

Coming soon to a supermarket near you?  We shall see.

Feb 13 2020

What’s up? Plant-based meat and dairy substitutes

I’ve been collecting items on what’s happening in the plant-based food world.  Lots.  It’s the hot new topic, as demonstrated by a recent Rabobank Talking Points survey.

For starters, do not miss the competing 30-second, spelling bee videos.  The first is from the Center for Consumer Freedom,  the discredited PR firm that never reveals who pays for their campaigns, although this one is pretty easy to guess; it aired in Washington, DC during the SuperBowl.  The 30-second rebuttal parody is from Impossible Foods, the inventor and marketer of Impossible BurgersCNBC has an exceptionally clear account of what this is all about.

Next, check out the February edition of Scientific American, which has a page titled “Meat the Imitators.” This lists the ingredients of four imitation meats, including Impossible Burger, in comparison to a burger made with real beef.  Worth a look.

Then, see The Guardian on how all this happened (with a long section on cell-based meat, as well).

And now to the industry perspective:

Dec 6 2019

Weekend reading: the latest on plant-based meat and dairy alternatives

I don’t know about you but I am having a hard time keeping up with what’s happening in the market for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes.

For one thing, they are under attack from meat producers.  Here’s the latest on the politics.

Why the attack.  Just take a look at what I’ve collected on this topic in the past couple of weeks.  You can see at a glance why this trend is taking off.  Everyone wants to get into this act in every way they can.

Nov 15 2019

Weekend reading: Meat, Cultured and Not

I’ve been seeing lots of books about meat lately.  Here are two recent ones.

Josh Berson.  The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food.  MIT Press, 2019.

The author is an Australian social scientist, a vegan, who has produced a deep dive into the history of the use of meat as food and as cultural symbol.  As he puts it,

The aim of this book is to unpack what I’ve come to call the Meat Question–Should humans be eating meat, and if so who, and what kinds, and how much?–in the most comprehensive way possible.  The perspective…is deep deep in that it encompasses the history of human meat eating and human relationships with other gregarious vertebrates over a span of more than 2 million years.  (p. 2)

This [book’s] perspective is centered on my conviction that the economic violence of meat has less to do with who can and cannot afford it than with how meat serves to prop up a system of asymmetric benefits from all forms of human activity, not just that related to food.  Growing demand for meat is not simply an outcome of growing affluence.  It is a symptom of the inequality and oppression that have accompanied that affluence. (p. 294)

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft.  Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food.  University of California Press, 2019.

This book examines the brand-new industry creating lab-based meat.  These products are not yet on the market but are of such enormous public and economic interest that they are well worth book-length treatment.

This book tells the story of what I found, and what I did not find, in the course of my time in the small, strange world of cultured meat, during what seemed to be the early years of an emerging technology.  I expected to spend time in laboratories…This did happen in some measure, but for the most part I found myself with very little laboratory science to observe and a great many public conversations about cultured meat to participate in and sort through.  (p. 15)

But cultured meat, too, raises moral questions.  Not questions about our moral regard for harvested cells, but questions about the implications cultured meat may hold for our moral regard for animals….It is relatively easy to see how cultured meat would or would not suit different philosophical arguments for animal protection….But assuming that cultured meat leads to abolition of animal agriculture, it will change our sense of what these creatures, these nonhuman animals, are doing in the world. (p. 133)

Both of these books deal with the moral, philosophical, cultural, historical, and socioeconomic implications of meat-eating, although from quite different perspectives.