Improving plant-based meat analogues by evaluating effects on human health and sustainability

There is an increasing demand for plant-based meat products and the meat substitute market has attractive opportunities. Currently meat analogous are highly processed. Are they healthy? And how can we improve them? We will investigate new and current plant-based meat alternatives and analogues on their health consequences, in vivo and in vitro.
Partners might provide nutritional ingredients, compounds or meat analogues.

Plant-based diets with little or no animal products are considered sustainable and can be healthy, but meat provides also positive traits like high quality proteins, characteristic micronutrients and minerals. When developing meat analogues the focus is on replacing those nutrients. However, to reach a high protein content, fractionation of plant materials is necessary. This strongly compromises sustainability, as fractionation requires water, energy, and chemicals while leading to severe protein losses. Salt is often added and many beneficial plant components like fibres / phytochemicals are extracted. The question therefore remains if replacement of animal products by currently meat analogues improves sustainability and human health. Thus, the beneficial effect on human health of replacing meat products with plant-based alternatives is not known. In this project, we will investigate if plant-based alternatives that replace meat have in addition to sustainability, an advantageous effect on human health including the intestinal microbiome.

New plant-based meat alternatives can ranging from hardly processed products, such as beans and other pulses towards more processed products like meat analogues, such as burgers or schnitzels. We need to improve our understanding of the effects of processing conditions on the digestibility of proteins and the bioavailability of individual essential amino acids. This will lead to reengineering of plant-based meat alternatives. The goal is to produce the best performing meat analogues in terms of protein quality and health benefits. Therefore, not only protein fermentation and derived metabolites but a richer landscape of dietary precursors and microbial metabolites are of interest. This project will provide a unique opportunity to combine in vitro and in vivo studies to study the biological value of new plant-based meat alternatives. A large dietary intervention study will be conducted in which we will study the effect of repetitive daily consumption of alternatives for meat on changes in microbiome and other health parameters.

The budget for this proposal is estimated to be 2.200k Euro. The above described projects are being developed for application to the TKI subsidy, a Dutch governmental program sponsoring applied research. Each project requires at least one Dutch company partner, but additional partners from abroad are welcome to join. Granted projects receive 50% subsidy funding. The other 50% is contributed by industry partners, of which up to half (25% of total) may be in-kind.

This consortium is open for participation from ingredient companies, end product companies, and biotech companies. In return for in-cash and in-kind contributions to the project, partners can specify desired topics for research, and provide direction to the research activities. Unfortunately we are not able to reply to solicitations from research institutes or enquiries from students related to this project.