Approximately 82 million Americans will be eating plant-based meat in 2024, but skepticism remains high about alternative proteins, particularly processed soy. Now, new research refutes the concern that vegan meat made with soy is unhealthy. Working under a partnership between the multinational brand Unilever and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, researchers upheld the nutritional value of soy-based protein sources.

The research team closely examined the nutritional content of soy-based meat products compared to conventional meat, soybeans, and other plant-based meat products. The study proved that using processed soy in vegan meat products does not jeopardize the nutritional value, as published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. Before this study, little research had been conducted examining how processing methods impacted nutritional value.

“For the first time, a study comprehensively finds that the protein quality of soy used in our plant-based foods is not compromised during processing, contrary to misconceptions. In fact, processing soy slightly increases the protein’s nutritional quality,” Amelia Jarman, Unilever’s Future Health and Wellness Science and Technology Director said in a statement.

Is Soy Protein Healthy?

To determine the relationship between processing and nutritional value, the researchers evaluated the soy-based protein with the digestibility indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS), the United Nations Food and Agrilcutre's standard measure. The rubric analyzes protein quality in relation to the body's nutritional requirements and products that score above 75 are considered healthy.

The researchers examined different soy product ingredients to properly assess the nutritional value of soy-based meat. To assess plant-based meat products most accurately, the researchers applied the DIASS rubric to soy protein concentrate, scoring it at 88. The score ranked higher than whole soybeans at 85.

“Given the rising demand from environmentally conscious consumers looking to transition away from meat but still looking for nutritious, high-quality food, this research is very exciting as it proves that meat-free alternatives actually do fulfill our bodies’ protein requirements,” Jarman said.

The analysis reveals that vegan meat made from processed soy can properly meet the standards for protein requirements. The study also noted that soy protein quality could be altered through processing and post-processing techniques.

How is Soy Protein Processed?

Soy-based meat alternatives pioneered the vegan protein market, and more than likely, Americans consuming plant-based meats are eating processed soy. But what do the soy processing methods look like? To produce soy-based protein concentrates, soybeans are cleaned, dehulled, crushed, and flaked. The oils from the soybeans are extracted to eventually create soy protein isolate.

The soy flour, soy isolate, and soy concentrate are further processed to replicate the texture of conventional meat products. These processes can include extrusion –– where protein experience thermomechanical manipulation to create a meat-like texture.

Avoiding Red Meat for Health

This October, researchers concluded that eating less meat lowers the risk of all causes of mortality. The study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal, found that vegans have a 9 to 12 percent lower mortality rate when compared to meat eaters.

  • Eating a mostly plant-based diet can prolong life expectancy by over 10 years.
  • Those who eat red and processed meat are at a 13 and 9 percent higher risk of early death, respectively, according to Harvard researchers.
  • Choosing plant protein and avoiding meat and dairy protects your gut health and improves your overall well-being, reducing your risk of disease.

Adopting plant-based meat products instead of conventional red and processed meats can significantly reduce disease risks. Processed and red meat products are listed as carcinogens by the CDC, clearly presenting health and longevity risks to Americans who follow the traditional Western Diet.

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