Latest boost for plant-based protein as Quorn products show muscle benefits

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12 Oct 2017 --- Protein found in Quorn meat-free foods may be just as beneficial for muscles as animal proteins, new research funded by Quorn Foods suggests. News of the successful study is the latest to highlight a rosy future for plant-based proteins in the food and beverage marketplace.

“The amino acid profile of mycoprotein suggested that a positive outcome could be a reasonable expectation,” Tim Finnigan, Director of R&D at Quorn Foods, tells NutritionInsight of the study results. “However, until the clinical work had been done there could be no certainty to this. We are therefore absolutely delighted with what is an important foundation stone to address issues of protein quality when compared with that derived from animals.”

Increasingly “sticky” trend
Plant-based protein like Quorn’s is trending at the moment, and product launch statistics bear this popularity out. Innova Market Insights reports that 1 in 10 global high/source of protein products featured natural claims in 2016. The plant proteins with the highest growth in sports nutrition launches tracked (Global, 2016 vs. 2015) were: soy protein with 25 percent; rice protein with 43 percent; and pea protein with 65 percent.

“What we’ve really found over the last five years is that the number of vegan claims on products has increased by over three times,” comments Kara Nielsen of Innova Market Insights. “What’s really significant about that is we see plants having a role not only in the traditional plant-based food items like non-dairy milks or meat substitutes, but also in more categories like fats, spreads, chocolate bars and also things like ice coffee.”

Plant proteins are now appearing not only in sports nutrition, where a high level of protein might be expected, but also in all kinds of other, more mainstream items like almond milk, snack bars and cereals, Nielsen adds.

“The trend to eat less meat in favor of healthy new proteins is gaining momentum and is seen as important in addressing concerns over health, weight, animal welfare and environmental concerns. We live in an age of global accelerations, and it feels to us as though this is an idea that is increasingly ‘sticky,’” agrees Finnigan.

Sustainability and bioavailability emphasized
Food labeling usually lists protein as a simple number, but some proteins have better bioavailability than others – meaning more can be used by the body. Animal proteins like milk are known to have high bioavailability, making them an excellent source of building blocks for muscles.

Click to EnlargeFor the Quorn study, researchers from the University of Exeter compared milk protein with mycoprotein – the fungi-based protein source found in Quorn foods – and found “equivalent” bioavailability.

The university scientists say more research is now needed to see if the high bioavailability of mycoprotein translates to beneficial effects, equivalent to animal proteins, on muscle tissue for various groups of people.

“In the last decade or so, nutritional research has led to more and more people – including athletes and older people – being advised to consume more protein than the standard recommended daily allowance,” says first author Mandy Dunlop of the University of Exeter.

“At the same time, government and societal concerns about the sustainability and environmental effects of producing animal-based proteins like meat and dairy products have been growing,” adds Dunlop. “Quorn's mycoprotein is produced with far less impact on the environment, and our research shows the bioavailability of its protein is equivalent to that of milk.”

Consuming protein results in an increased availability of amino acids and insulin in the blood, leading to “muscle protein synthesis” (muscle building) in the hours after eating.

Extensive research has been done on animal proteins, many of which have high bioavailability, and these are often recommended to people who need extra protein to maintain or remodel muscle tissue.

Many plant proteins have lower bioavailability – but the researchers say bioavailability in Quorn's mycoprotein is “very good.”

“Indeed, though milk protein was digested more quickly, the overall availability of amino acids derived from mycoprotein over a four-hour period following a meal was equivalent to the same amount of protein derived from milk,” says senior author Dr. Benjamin Wall.

Dr. Wall adds that the researchers concluded mycoprotein provides a very bioavailable dietary protein source, and speculate that it would be an effective source of protein to support muscle building in a variety of populations.

“This study also took a dose-response approach such that the data give us some direction for how much protein individuals should consume within a meal depending on whether they are looking for sufficient, or optimal, effects on muscle tissue; though definitive conclusions on this will require further work, especially to translate to longer-term effects on health and/or performance,” notes Dr. Wall.

The paper, “Mycoprotein represents a bioavailable and insulinotropic non-animal-derived dietary protein source: a dose-response study,” is published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Further work is already underway looking more specifically at the anabolic or muscle building abilities of mycoprotein, according to Finnigan.

“This is important in order to offer a credible alternative to animal protein that can support across lifestyle nutrition as well as emerging areas of growing importance such as vegan sports nutrition and sarcopenia (muscle depletion) in the over-50s, which some say is a ticking time bomb of public health because of its potential to impact mobility and flexibility,” Finnigan says.

Further recent plant-based protein news includes DuPont Nutrition & Health debuting plant-based, 90 percent protein nuggets. Kerry launched ProDiem, a complementary combination of plant proteins including pea, rice and oat to improve the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), at Vitafoods Europe in Geneva. On the pea protein side, Glanbia also won an innovation award at IFT 2017 for its BevEdge Pea Protein

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