Plant-based burgers vs. actual meat: Study details big nutritional differences

No, we're not talking about the fact that plant-based burgers are, well, made from plants and meat comes from animals. That's an obvious difference between the two products, but what may not be so obvious to all consumers is that nutrients aren't mirrored across the two different types of meat. A new study from Duke University notes that neither of these products is 'good or bad,' but they are different from a nutritional standpoint.

In terms of taste, texture, and appearance, the line between a plant-based burger and a beef patty has become very blurred. In some cases, a consumer may not even notice they're eating a plant-based burger patty, assuming it's cooked properly and buried under enough veggies and condiments. Despite that, the nutritional profile of these plant-based patties is notably different than their real-meat counterparts.

That's according to a new study from Duke University, which notes that despite the seemingly equivalent nutrients listed on plant-based burger products' labels, there are some key differences when you compare them to beef. The researchers behind the new study conducted a "deeper examination" of the differences in nutrients between plant-based burgers and beef, noting that the exact composition of a plant-based burger depends on the brand.

Some brands, for example, may add things like B12 and zinc to help match the nutritional profile of beef, whereas others may not have those nutrients. Regardless, all plant-based burgers tend to share certain characteristics, such as using protein derived from soy or peas and indigestible fibers for a thicker texture.

It's the "other components of nutrition" that you don't see on the product's label that make plant-based alternatives notably different from their animal-based counterparts, according to the study. The research involved what is described as a popular plant-based beef alternative; 18 samples of it were compared with 18 samples of grass-fed beef.

A total of 36 patties were "carefully cooked" and then analyzed, revealing differences in 171 out of 190 metabolites between the two products. For example, the plant-based patties contained 31 metabolites not found in beef, while the beef contained 22 metabolites not found in plant-based alternatives.

Of these, the biggest differences involved things like saturated and unsaturated fat, vitamins, amino acids, phenols, and dipeptide, the researchers explain. Multiple important metabolites that play key roles in human health were mostly or only found in the beef, according to the study, including DHA (an omega-3), creatine, and more.

That doesn't mean the grass-fed beef was superior to the plant-based patties, however, with the study also finding that the vegan alternative had multiple metabolites beneficial to human health not found in beef, including phenols and phytosterols, which come from plants. The study's lead Stephan van Vliet explained:

It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that's not to say that one is better than the other. Plant and animal foods can be complementary because they provide different nutrients.