Are plant-based proteins and meat substitutes enough for your body needs?

A vegan diet is a plant-based lifestyle that prohibits the consumption of all animal products and many people adopt it for health, environmental and strong ethical beliefs. Some of these diets include meat substitutes that mimic the textures and tastes of traditional meat products, like tofu, tempeh and seitan. Now latest research has shown that these plant-derived foods may not be nutritionally rich and lack two minerals in particular, iron and zinc.

Even if meat substitutes contain some iron and zinc, study author Inger-Cecelia Mayer Labba of Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, says the body cannot always use them because of a compound called phytate which interferes with its ability to absorb them. “Phytate accumulates during extraction of plant proteins commonly used to produce meat substitutes and it has been known for decades to have an inhibiting effect on iron uptake, already at a very low concentration. Iron is also accumulated during the process of protein extraction but it is not absorbable due to the high presence of phytate,” she has been quoted as saying.

Is vegan better? (Source: Pexels)


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Protein is a vital nutrient responsible for growth, maintenance and repair of the body. Increasing your protein intake can provide many health benefits like a better body composition, improved blood sugar control and improved satiety levels. Proteins are made up of building blocks known as amino acids.

There are 20 different amino acids commonly found in plants and animals. Amino acids are classified as either essential amino acids, which cannot be produced by the body, and therefore must come from the diet or non-essential amino acids, which can be produced by the body.


Plant protein is simply a form of protein that is derived from plants. This group can include pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, tofu, soya, tempeh, edamame, peanuts, almonds and seeds such as chia and hemp. Protein sources derived from plants, with the exception of soya and quinoa, are incomplete as they lack at least one of the nine essential amino acids.

Protein sources derived from animal origin contain all the nine essential amino acids and hence they are called complete proteins. Animal protein includes eggs, fish and poultry such as chicken and red meat, milk and milk products such as casein and whey.

Animal proteins such as casein and whey and soy protein essentially have a PDCAAS (Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score), which is used to evaluate the protein quality and compare the amount of essential amino acids in the food. The PDCAAS of most plant proteins may be less than 1.00, thereby making animal protein a better source of protein besides being rich in vitamin B12, vitamin D, the Omega 3 fatty acid DHA, iron, zinc and vitamin K2.

Compared with animal protein sources, plant sources are higher in fibre, vitamin C and flavonoids.


Veganism may lead to a number of nutritional deficiencies like that of iron, vitamin D and zinc, which may manifest in a variety of ways, including fatigue, back pain, hair loss and poor wound healing. Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to a reduction in healthy red blood cells. The lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet leads to fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression and poor blood circulation. These vitamins are essential as they contain micronutrients and minerals that provide immunity to fight diseases and are required for body growth and development.

It is important to consult a qualified dietician to ensure that all the nutrients are being met in the diet.