A metabolomics comparison of plant-based meat and grass-fed meat indicates large nutritional differences despite comparable Nutrition Facts panels.


A new generation of plant-based meat alternatives-formulated to mimic the taste and nutritional composition of red meat-have attracted considerable consumer interest, research attention, and media coverage. This has raised questions of whether plant-based meat alternatives represent proper nutritional replacements to animal meat. The goal of our study was to use untargeted metabolomics to provide an in-depth comparison of the metabolite profiles a popular plant-based meat alternative (n = 18) and grass-fed ground beef (n = 18) matched for serving size (113 g) and fat content (14 g). Despite apparent similarities based on Nutrition Facts panels, our metabolomics analysis found that metabolite abundances between the plant-based meat alternative and grass-fed ground beef differed by 90% (171 out of 190 profiled metabolites; false discovery rate adjusted p < 0.05). Several metabolites were found either exclusively (22 metabolites) or in greater quantities in beef (51 metabolites) (all, p < 0.05). Nutrients such as docosahexaenoic acid (ω-3), niacinamide (vitamin B3), glucosamine, hydroxyproline and the anti-oxidants allantoin, anserine, cysteamine, spermine, and squalene were amongst those only found in beef. Several other metabolites were found exclusively (31 metabolites) or in greater quantities (67 metabolites) in the plant-based meat alternative (all, p < 0.05). Ascorbate (vitamin C), phytosterols, and several phenolic anti-oxidants such as loganin, sulfurol, syringic acid, tyrosol, and vanillic acid were amongst those only found in the plant-based meat alternative. Large differences in metabolites within various nutrient classes (e.g., amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, tocopherols, and fatty acids) with physiological, anti-inflammatory, and/or immunomodulatory roles indicate that these products should not be viewed as truly nutritionally interchangeable, but could be viewed as complementary in terms of provided nutrients. The new information we provide is important for making informed decisions by consumers and health professionals. It cannot be determined from our data if either source is healthier to consume.






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Publication Info

van Vliet, Stephan, James R Bain, Michael J Muehlbauer, Frederick D Provenza, Scott L Kronberg, Carl F Pieper and Kim M Huffman (2021). A metabolomics comparison of plant-based meat and grass-fed meat indicates large nutritional differences despite comparable Nutrition Facts panels. Scientific reports, 11(1). p. 13828. 10.1038/s41598-021-93100-3 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23964.

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James R. Bain

Professor in Medicine

Carl F. Pieper

Professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

Analytic Interests.

1) Issues in the Design of Medical Experiments: I explore the use of reliability/generalizability models in experimental design. In addition to incorporation of reliability, I study powering longitudinal trials with multiple outcomes and substantial missing data using Mixed models.

2) Issues in the Analysis of Repeated Measures Designs & Longitudinal Data: Use of Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM) or Mixed Models in modeling trajectories of multiple variables over time (e.g., physical and cognitive functioning and Blood Pressure). My current work involves methodologies in simultaneous estimation of trajectories for multiple variables within and between domains, modeling co-occuring change.

Areas of Substantive interest: (1) Experimental design and analysis in gerontology and geriatrics, and psychiatry,
(2) Multivariate repeated measures designs,


Kim Marie Huffman

Associate Professor of Medicine

Determining the role of physical activity in modulating health outcomes (cardiovascular disease risk) in persons with rheumatologic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis)

Integrating clinical rheumatology, basic immunology, metabolism, and exercise science in order to reduce morbidity in individuals with arthritis

Evaluating relationships between circulating and intra-muscular metabolic intermediates and insulin resistance in sedentary as well as individuals engaging in regular exercise

Addressing the role of physical activity in modulating inflammation, metabolism, and functional health in aging populations

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