Tag Archives: Beef

Meat and plant-based meat don’t have the same nutritional properties, but neither is better than the other

While they may look, taste, and feel pretty much the same, meat and plant-based meat are not the same from a nutritional standpoint. That’s not to say one is better than the other, but they are different beasts and should not be seen as interchangeable, a new paper explains.

Image credits Andreas Lischka.

New research at Duke University is taking a deeper look into the nutritional content of plant-based meats. These products, at least when judging from nutritional labels, seem pretty much identical to regular meat. They have similar vitamin, fat, and protein contents, all characteristics that are listed on the labels of food products. But they have significant differences among many of the nutritional elements that don’t make it onto the labels.

Similar but not the same

“To consumers reading nutritional labels, they may appear nutritionally interchangeable,” said Stephan van Vliet, a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute who led the research. “But if you peek behind the curtain using metabolomics and look at expanded nutritional profiles, we found that there are large differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative.”

“It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that’s not to say that one is better than the other. Plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients.”

Great effort has been put into making plant-based meat more meat-like, quite understandably so. This makes it more appealing to people looking for a realistic plant-based substitute for meat, while also, potentially, making it more enticing to those who are used to regular meat. Towards this end, plant-based meat products often include leghemoglobin, a molecule derived from soy, red beet, berries, and carrot extracts that simulates meat’s ‘juiciness’. Its texture is simulated through the addition of digestible fibers, and proteins from plant sources such as soy or peas are mixed in to fortify the meat substitute. Other ingredients such as vitamins and minerals (for example, B12 and zinc) are often mixed in as well in order to mimic meat’s nutritional values.

However, the team reports that there are still significant differences in nutritional content between meat and plant-based meat substitutes. These differences are most pronounced in items that aren’t listed on nutritional labels, they add. The team measured the levels of different metabolites involved in various processes that keep our bodies going. According to the authors, we estimate that there are over 100,000 such metabolites that play a role in our biochemistry and that we get around half of them from our diets.

For the study, they compared metabolite levels in 18 samples of plant-based meat to those in 18 samples of grass-fed, ground beef samples taken from a ranch in Idaho. They report finding differences in 171 out of the 190 metabolites they analyzed between the two groups. Regular meat contained 22 metabolites that the plant-based patties did not. On the other hand, the latter contained 31 metabolites that beef didn’t. These differences were most significant in regards to amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, and phenol levels, as well as in the types of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in these products.

Several metabolites that are known to play an important part in maintaining our health were found in greater quantities in beef, and a few were found there exclusively. These include creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

“These nutrients have potentially important physiological, anti-inflammatory, and or immunomodulatory roles,” the authors note in the paper.

“These nutrients are important for our brain and other organs including our muscles” van Vliet adds. “But some people on vegan diets (no animal products), can live healthy lives — that’s very clear.”

While the results are definitely valuable, they don’t point to either variety of meat being better than the other. Both varieties contain some compounds that aren’t seen in the other, so they’d both, ideally, be included in our diets.

The paper “A metabolomics comparison of plant-based meat and grass-fed meat indicates large nutritional differences despite comparable Nutrition Facts panels” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This small change could cut halve your diet’s environmental impact

A simple change could massively reduce the negative impact of most people’s diets: swapping beef for poultry.

Bottom line: don’t eat this guy.

It doesn’t often make the headlines, but food production is one of the major culprits of climate change, contributing up to 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Out of this, meat takes an overwhelming slice of the pie.

At a basic level, it’s easy to understand why meat is so inefficient: plants convert around 10% of the energy they receive into edible nutrients. Animals have a similar rate: only about 10% of the plants they eat are converted into something we can eat, so 90% of the energy is wasted (arguably, some of that energy comes from plants we ourselves couldn’t eat, but even so, it’s a wasteful process).

Over 50% of all the emissions associated with food comes from meat production and consumption, although meat itself provides less than 10% of the calories we eat. Beef, in particular, is extremely inefficient.

A beef with the environment

It takes 75 times more energy to produce a pound of beef than to produce a pound of corn, and beef also requires 54 calories of fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein, compared to 2-3 calories of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of soy or wheat. Study after study has shown that beef is an important contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions — and this one is no different. In the latest research, scientists show that even by replacing beef with other meat (poultry) it could make a big difference.

Diego Rose, a director of nutrition at Tulane University, analyzed what would happen if people would substitute a beef-focused meal with a similar poultry meal. Along with his colleagues, he analyzed the diet information from more than 16,000 participants in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, calculating a carbon footprint of all diets.

They found that the 10 foods with the highest impacts on the environment were all cuts of beef.

Then, they looked at what would happen if all beef in the diets would be replaced by an equivalent poultry dish. For instance, broiled beef steak was replaced with broiled chicken and ground beef with ground turkey. The results were impressive.

“Our simulation showed that you don’t have to give up animal products to improve your carbon footprint,” Rose commented on the study. “Just one food substitution brought close to a 50% reduction, on average, in a person’s carbon footprint.”

That’s how disproportionate beef’s carbon footprint is — even replacing it for something that’s not exactly eco-friendly either has a massive impact. Of course, any further reduction of meat consumption has even more environmental benefits. Researchers also stress that food waste and overeating also increase the carbon footprint of our diet.

The results have not yet been peer-reviewed but have been presented at the Nutrition 2019 conference, where they have been selected by a panel of experts.



Avoiding eating meat and dairy is the single best thing you can do for the environment

Ever felt like you wanted to do something for the environment, but wasn’t really sure what? Well, researchers have the solution: eat less meat and dairy.

Beef is one of the worst foods you can consume, both for your own health and for the environment. Image via Wiki Commons.

It might not seem like the most straightforward thing, but a new study has found that livestock provides only 18% of all the calories we consume, but takes up 83% of all farmland.

Without meat or dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%, freeing up an area larger than all of the US, China, European Union and Australia combined. It would free up countless ecosystems, drastically reduce environmental pressure, and reduce much of our greenhouse gas emissions.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, in a press release. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The study assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” Poore continues. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

Of course, that’s not realistic — we can’t expect all meat and dairy consumption to disappear overnight, but even so, we could reduce it. Every pound of meat we reduce from our diet has an important effect on the environment. For instance, every pound of beef requires about 8000 liters of water, whereas an equivalent quantity of potatoes consumes over a thousand times less water. Even eggs only need about of fifth of what beef needs. The figures for land use are similar.

Everything here is plant-based.

Okay, you might say, but potatoes don’t provide the same nutrients as beef, do they? Well, the new study found that the plant-based replacements of meat, which offer similar nutrients, also have a dramatically lower environmental impact.

“Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy,” Poore added.

It’s not even about reducing all the meat. The study found that if only the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based foods, that would reduce more than 66% of the impact of the entire industry.

The study also highlighted a few unpleasant surprises. For instance, freshwater fish farming, long thought to be an environmentally-friendly practice, was responsible for a surprising amount of emissions. This is largely due to the methane produced by the unconsumed fish feed and excreted material, which deposit at the bottom of the lake. Grass-fed beef, thought to be a more sustainable practice, was found to be anything but.

“Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

This shouldn’t be taken as a call to turn vegetarian or vegan overnight — not at all. But it is a call to understand the impact our consumption is having on the planet, especially as this isn’t the first study to come to this conclusion. In fact, there’s a mountain of research documenting the negative impact of meat and dairy, and showing that reducing our consumption of animal foods can be impactful on many levels.

Moderating our meat and dairy consumption is not just eco-friendly, it’s also healthy. No amount of processed red meat is good for you, and even low amounts can be dangerous for your health.

The bottom line is simple: want to live a longer, healthier life, and do something amazing for the environment? Eat less meat!

Journal Reference: J. Poore, T. Nemecek. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0216

US Beef eaters are responsible for half of food-related emissions

No surprises: a new study highlights beef as the main culprit when it comes to food-related greenhouse gas emissions. According to the research, regular beef eaters are responsible for more than half of all food-related emissions.

The CO2 emissions for different types of foods, according to a study by Chine, Crossin, and Verghese.

We don’t often think about it this way, but the food we buy is not just food. Producing, packaging and shipping food consumes a lot of resources and generates massive emissions (a 2012 study found that a third of our emissions comes from agriculture). Not all foods are made equal, however, and some are much more taxing than others. Red meat, in particular, is a problem — not only is it bad for your health, it’s also bad for the environment.

In terms of emissions, one study found that red meats are 150% more greenhouse gas intensive than chicken or fish — and against fruits and vegetables, they fare even worse. All in all, red meat (and especially beef) are the big problems when it comes to food emissions, and this new study confirms it.

To estimate the impact of dietary choices of Americans, researchers built a database that assessed the environmental impacts involved in producing more than 300 types of foods. They then asked 16,000 Americans about what they eat, and split them into five groups (quintiles) based on how carbon-intensive their diet is. They found that the 20 percent of U.S. diets with the highest carbon footprint accounted for 46 percent of total diet-related greenhouse emissions. The first quintile emitted five times more CO2 per calorie than the lowest quintile — and beef was a big part of it, accounting for 72 percent of the emissions difference

“A big take home message for me is the fact that high-impact diets are such a large part of the overall contribution to food-related greenhouse gases,” said U-M researcher Martin Heller, first author of a paper published March 20 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

A University of Michigan and Tulane University study showed that the 20 percent of U.S. diets with the highest carbon footprint accounted for 46 percent of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. Image credit: Martin Heller.

This food emissions distribution is not exactly surprising — you’d expect the highest quintile to cast a big shadow — but the study also offers important insight as to how these emissions could be reduced. Meat accounted for 70 percent of the food-associated greenhouse gas emissions in the highest-impact group but only 27 percent in the lowest-impact group.

If Americans in the highest-impact group shifted their diets to the American average, it would make a big difference, approximately equivalent to eliminating 661 million passenger-vehicle miles every day, researchers say.

“Reducing the impact of our diets—by eating fewer calories and less animal-based foods—could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. It’s climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat,” said Heller, a researcher at the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems in the School for Environment and Sustainability.

Interestingly, the highest quintile also ate much more than other groups — 2,984 versus 1,323 calories per day, compared to the lowest quintile (note that even calorie-adjusted, the highest quintile group still emitted much more than the other groups). So the people who are over-eating are also eating too much meat. While the current study didn’t analyze this, it also seems quite likely that this is also posing serious health issues for many Americans.

The study only analyzed emissions associated with the production of food, not calculating emissions caused by the processing, packaging, transportation, and refrigeration of food. Aside from emissions, agriculture is a key contributor to many environmental problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss and land and freshwater degradation

Journal Reference: Martin C Heller et al. Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected US diets.


Replacing beef with beans on Americans’ plates might be the fastest way to cut CO2 emissions


The United States is the second biggest greenhouse gas polluter in the world, after China. At the same time, it’s the most powerful country in the world and much of this prosperity is owed to burning copious amounts of fossil fuels over the past 150 years. In other words, the United States has a social responsibility in front of all the citizens of the world to 1) reduce it’s greenhouse emissions fast and 2) help other nations — particularly the fast rising developing nations — achieve the same goal by transferring technology and funds.

While most Americans believe climate change is real and an immediate threat, when it comes to doing something about it opinions become mixed. And if you say the ‘T’ word, you better run for the hills. No, not Trump — I mean ‘taxes’. But the single, fastest way to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions might not be stripping a tax on the industry or the gas pump. According to researchers from Loma Linda University led Helen Harwatt, giving up on beef in favor of beans would have the most immediate impact on our emissions.

“Given the novelty, we would expect that the study will be useful in demonstrating just how much of an impact changes in food production can make, and increase the utility of such options in climate-change policy,” Harwatt said.

If Americans ate beans instead of beef, the U.S. would realize 50 to 75% of its 2020 GHG-reduction targets

Right now, most of our protein comes from livestock meat, 70% of which is produced in factory farms. This is a highly energy-intensive industry that responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs); more than all the cars, planes, ships, tanks or any kind of transportation in the world. But not all meats are equal. Beef, for instance, is the most resource-intensive kind of meat to produce  Depending on where it’s grown, one pound of beef uses 1,800 to 2,500 gallons (56 tons to 70 tons) of water and releases 22.3 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions per kilogram. And that’s not counting land use and other resources.

A 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group found that eating one fewer burger every week for a year was the equivalent of taking your car off the road for more than 500 kilometres, and if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week for a year it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

Simply put, eating beef driving a lot of global warming and pollution — not only in this country but all around the world. At the same time, beef is an excellent source of protein for millions of people.

So are beans, though.

beans vs beef

Credit: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

A 2015 study carried out by a team from the University of Minnesota asked 14 men and 14 women to eat two test lunches which included a ‘meatloaf’ made of either beans or beef. Both meals were matched in calories and total fat. The beef meal provided 26 grams of protein and three grams of fiber while the bean meal provided 17 grams of protein and 12 gram of fiber. All participants didn’t report differences in appetite between the beef and bean meals over the course of 3 hours following their lunch. These findings support the idea that plant-based proteins with high fiber may offer similar appetite regulation as animal protein.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen performed a similar study and came up with even more interesting findings. Their study which involved 43 young men not only found beans fill the belly better than beef,  they do it on fewer calories. A typical fast food meat patty tallies up about 230 calories but bean burgers, by contrast, average just 115 calories.

The takeaway would be that beans offer a very similar intake pound-for-pound with beef, with the added benefit of being more satiating which helps you lose weight. Beans are also a lot cheaper and contain lots of fiber as opposed to beef. Foods naturally high in fiber lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, regulate bowel movements, help prevent type-2 diabetes, reduces the risk of heart diseases, and more.

“While more studies are needed for a definitive proof, it appears as if vegetable-based meals – particularly those based on beans and peas – can serve as a long term basis for weight loss and as a sustainable eating habit,” concluded th estudy’s lead author Anne Raben in a University of Copenhagen press release.

Let’s spill the beans

The most important thing at stake when switching beef with beans, however, is the wellbeing of our planet, though it’s good to know our waistline is also taken care of.

“The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing,” said  Joan Sabate, a co-author of the new Loma Linda University study which assessed the environmetal impact of switching beef in favor of beans.

Substituting beans for beef would also free up 42 percent of U.S. cropland currently under cultivation. That’s a staggering 1.65 million square kilometers or 400 million square acres. This free space can then be used to grow more plant-based foods, including beans, of course, to support a rising population.

All of this sounds rational to most people, I take it, but when confronted with the choice in the real life who can we count on? Americans love beef, especially burgers, so it’s understandable why this might look like a lost cause. That’s not necessarily the case. In 2014, 400 million fewer animals were killed for food because people, mainly Millenials in the United States, chose to eat less meat. Moreover, according to Professor Harwatt, a third of American consumers are now buying meat analogs — plant-based products that resemble animal foods — and the trend is growing. So, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Besides, people don’t need to give up beef or meat, in general, entirely. That just sounds like too much of a sacrifice and such decisions need not sound like that. Instead, even replacing meat-based meals one day of the week with plant-based products can have a huge impact.

At least, beans are better than another alternative: insects. Previously, a group from the University of Edinburgh, UK, found replacing half of the meat we eat worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third, consequently vastly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There’s also promising progress being made in the field of artificial meats. The price of a lab-grown burger has dropped to $11.36 down from $325,000 in 2012. 

“Given the scale of greenhouse gas reductiotens needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, are we prepared to eat beef analogs that look and taste like beef, but have a much lower climate impact?” Horwatt asks. “It looks like we’ll need to do this. The scale of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed doesn’t allow us the luxury of ‘business as usual’ eating patterns.”

Findings appeared in the journal Climatic Change.

China builds massive cloning factory to feed its people

Here’s a little exercise in imagination; you’re going over to some friends’ place for dinner, and they present you with a huge steak that looks so delicious it makes your mouth water. You cut out a bite and just before your lips touch the much-craved morsel you hear your host saying it’s “top quality cloned-veal.”

What do you do now? Do you eye your steak suspiciously and then try your best to ignore it the whole meal or do you chow down on your not-so-unique cut of veal?

One of these things is just like the others.
Image via wikipedia

A controversial choice

It seems that there are as many opinions regarding the use of cloned meat for food as there are peoples. On one side of the spectrum, we have the European Parliament, who recently passed a law that outright bans the sale of cloned livestock. At the same time, despite evidence that cloned animals live shorter lives than their born-and-bred brothers, the FDA considers “there are no complications that are unique to cloning” and so the meat is safe to eat. US law doesn’t require any special labeling for cloned meat, while officials don’t really know how common the use of cloned meat in food is, most cloned cattle in the country are probably not sold for food but used as breed stock.

And now China steps up to color the other end of the specter — a massive, 200 million yuan (over $31 million) commercial animal cloning facility will be built in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (a government-owned business area about 100 miles out of Beijing) with the sole purpose of cloning China’s cattle. And given the country’s already immense population, positive birthrate but most of all its burgeoning middle-class, it’s gonna be a lot of cattle.

“We are going [down] a path that no one has ever travelled. We are building something that has not existed in the past,” said Xu Xiaochun, chief executive of BoyaLife, the company behind the new operation for The Guardian.

The company intends to produce 100,000 cow embryos each year, providing around 5 percent of the meat eaten in China. BoyaLife also plans to clone champion racehorses and dogs used to sniff out victims of natural disasters or stashes of illegal drugs. Xu also told The Guardian that the new clone factory would be used to prevent endangered species from going extinct.

“This is going to change our world and our lives. It is going to make our life better. So we are very, very excited about it,” Xu added.

South Korean company Sooam Biotech will also participate in setting up the cloning complex, lending their expertise in this field (apparently they can even clone your dog for you, if you wand that for whatever reason) to the factory processes. The company is run by scientist Hwang Woo-suk, once known as “the pride of Korea” and the “king of cloning,” who has since fell out of grace and was dismissed from his post at Seoul National University when it was found he fabricated a series of experiments in 2006. It seems he was guilty of “research fraud and gross ethical lapses in the way he obtained human eggs for his experiments.”

Still, his partners from China aren’t discouraged by this, and work on their factory is in full swing, and almost complete.

 “We want it to be modern, we want it to be cutting edge. We want it to represent the future,” Xu concluded.

Study finds most people would support a “meat tax”

Agriculture is a big driver of climate change, with the meat industry standing out among the rest as a source of CO2 emissions and environmental damage; lowering demand for meat or ensuring that farms have as little environmental impact is possible, but costly. Would you be willing to eat less, if it was for the good of the planet? Pay more for your meat? A new study suggests that the idea isn’t as controversial as you may believe on first glance.

Image via freestockphotos

Researchers from the UK policy institute Chatham House surveyed people from 12 countries and focus groups in Brazil, China, the UK, and the US, to get a feel for the public opinion on this issue. Their findings show growing public support for a “meat tax,” as well as other solutions such as more vegetarian options in school cafeterias or lowering subsidies given to livestock farmers.

On the whole, participants believed that the government should lead the effort to address unsustainable consumption of meat, but how feasible is that? Livestock farming is responsible for between 10 to 15 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases. Currently, an average person in industrialized countries consumes around twice as much meat as experts deem to be healthy, and the average American almost four times as much (250g per person per day), the study reports. But while consumption is plateaued in these areas, as population increases and more countries develop strong economies demand is only going to increase, making this industry an even bigger emitter — global meat consumption is estimated to increase by 75% by 2050.

Current levels of meat consumption.
Image via wikipedia

Governments understandably fear a backlash from voters over interference in such a personal choice as diet. As public awareness of the link between diet and climate change is so low, there is very little pressure on ruling bodies to do anything about it, so they don’t — only 21 of the 120 national plans submitted to the upcoming Paris climate conference include commitments to reduce emissions from the livestock industry.

This “cycle of inertia” means that dietary change continues to be a low policy priority despite its importance. The report however does advocate for governmental action in this issue, and while it does not put a hard figure on how much people would be willing to bear in extra taxes for their meat products, the authors do note that any “backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived.”

By raising awareness of the negative impact of excess meat consumption on the planet — and our health — more people would be inclined for the government to act, researchers say.