Vegan meats can promote improved gut health, research reveals

Author: Helen Greaves

Read Time:   |  30th September 2021

A real-world study has shown that replacing meat with vegan alternatives can increase levels of gut-friendly bacteria.

A ground-breaking new study has revealed that meat-eaters replacing just five meals a week with plant-based meat alternatives can promote improved gut health.

The study, entitled “Impact of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives on the Gut Microbiota of Consumers: A Real-World Study”, was published in Foods, a peer-reviewed open access journal of food science.

The research followed 40 participants aged 18-55 for four weeks, with half of the participants continuing to eat as normal, and the others replacing a minimum of four meals per week with Meatless Farm’s vegan products.

Researchers regularly collected stool samples from the participants and compared changes in composition and functionality of gut microbiota between the two groups.

The results showed that eating 5 plant-based meals a week instead of meat-centric dishes caused a small but statistically significant increase in levels of group of bacteria that produces gut-friendly butyrate.

The benefits of butyrate

Butyrate is a fatty acid that promotes good digestive health and lessens inflammation to prevent disease.

It constitutes one of the main energy sources for colonocytes, making it crucial to gastrointestinal health.

Depleted levels of butyrate are also linked with diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Impact on gut health

During the study, participants demonstrated an increased fibre intake of 19g on average per week.

This high fibre content, along with some other aspects of the products’ nutritional profiles, are likely to have been the main cause of the increased butyrate production.

Any positive impact was likely due to the products’ nutritional profile, particularly the fibre content, which helps to product the butyrate.

The study also found a decrease in the potentially harmful Tenericutes bacteria, indicating that consuming meat alternatives can lead to holistic changes within the gut microbiobial ecosystem.

Other positive effects reported by participants included improved stool consistency, and more regular bowel movements.

However, more than half reported increased gas and bloating as a result of the change in diet. This was the most commonly reported negative side effect.

Other positive effects reported by participants were improved stool consistency and more regular bowel movements.

Nutritional profiles of vegan meat

Although vegan sausages and burgers are often called out as being “highly processed” by consumers, the finished products still manage to maintain their ingredients high vegetable protein, fibre, and phenolic compound contents to the benefit of consumers.

While some plant-based meat alternatives may be classified as ultra-processed, the industrial processing of plant-based ingredients does not make vegan meats ultra-processed by default.

Instead, plant-based meats should be assessed on a product-by-product basis, as the study’s researchers argue that the potential for a processed plant-based meat product to promote negative changes in the gut lies in the nutrient profiles of its individual ingredients.

Because there was a lack of literature from trials on the quality of plant-based meats compared to conventional animal-based products on the microbiome of consumers, this study aimed to fill a knowledge gap in the intersection of nutrition, microbiology, and consumer behaviour.

Despite a small sample size, the research has given strong enough results for further study to continue to test the potential benefits of plant-based meats.

Read more about keeping your gut happy and healthy on a vegan diet.

Written by

Helen Greaves

Helen Greaves

Helen has been vegan since 2018 and has a background in vegan food marketing and social media. She's mother to a mischief of rats, and loves to spend her spare time making vegan cakes and bakes.

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