Peptides (amino acids) from plant proteins such as soy and wheat gluten typically used in plant-based ‘chicken’ products display less water-solubility than animal protein and are not absorbed as well by human cells. These are the key findings of a new study into the nutrient absorption of plant proteins conducted by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Two experts recently spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst on the topic and the new study. “This study adds another piece of data at the molecular level to conclude specifically that these particular meat substitutes did not break down into peptides as efficiently as the meat proteins, and therefore are not as digestible for body growth and function compared to meat proteins,” said Dr. Robert McGorrin.

Researchers in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry report that proteins in a model plant-based substitute were not as accessible to cells as those from meat.

“The principal finding of this research was that meat analogs prepared from a mixture of soy protein concentrate and wheat gluten protein were not as digestible compared to the meat from chicken breast,” adds McGorrin. “This is not surprising, since previously published tables of food protein ingredients have shown that milk, egg, and chicken proteins are more digestible than soy protein,” he says.

Dr. D. Julian McClements added: “Proteins are made of chains of amino acids. These chains must be broken down inside our gastrointestinal tract before they can be absorbed. This study (using a simulated in vitro digestion model) shows that the plant proteins in meat analogs were digested less than the animal proteins in real meat.”