Your Alt Protein and Precision Fermentation Questions Answered

Alternative Proteins

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Precision Fermentation

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Our team scoured the internet for some of the top alternative protein and precision fermentation topics – from food additives, to plant vs animal protein, to algae protein and more. Read on for some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers.

Alternative Proteins

Q: How healthy are plant proteins vs animal proteins? 

A: Many of you understandably wanted to know how plant-based proteins stack up to animal proteins. In short, it depends on what metric you care about. For example, if you gauge “healthy” as which has more readily digestible protein content, animal proteins are healthier than plant-based proteins. That’s because your body has an easier time digesting animal proteins than plant proteins. 

In our previous State of the Industry post, we discussed how cow milk protein has a much higher digestibility index compared to almond milk protein. This means that even if the per-serving protein content between cow milk and almond milk is the same, your body absorbs and uses more of the protein from the cow milk. This suggests that animal ingredients are generally a better source of protein than plant ingredients, but of course, one could still meet their protein needs on plant ingredients alone. 

Both plant and animal proteins can have health benefits beyond just the nutritional value. Ingredients with these benefits are often referred to as bioactive or functional foods. Plant-based proteins like soy protein, for example, have bioactive properties for reducing cardiovascular disease and improving the immune system. 

A large study found that swapping animal proteins for plant proteins can help to reduce cholesterol levels and lower lipid profiles. Likewise, lactoferrin is a bioactive dairy protein with numerous benefits in iron regulation, immunity, and gut health. In short, animal and plant-based proteins both have their benefits and neither is superior on the whole.  

 

Q: Do alternative proteins contain food additives? 

A: Is alternative protein bad for you? When many people think of alternative proteins, they think of meat analogs: plant-based products in meat form (whether it be burgers, sausages, or nuggets). While other forms of alternative proteins do exist, like protein powders or ready-to-drink beverages, plant-based meat analogs receive the most attention in the press for their nutrition profile and ingredients. 

For non-animal ingredients to replicate meat, though, producers sometimes need to add additional ingredients like binders or fats. Binding properties may come from soy protein isolate or carrageenan, while colorants or spices might help the analog better mimic the original in appearance or taste. 

Finally, fats such as sunflower or canola oil might be added to boost the fat content of plant ingredients that are traditionally lower in fat than meats. Food additives are often given a bad rap for making products less healthy, but additives come in all forms and some may even boost the health benefits of a product. For example, TurtleTree’s LF+ could be added to plant-based milk to give the beverage some immune support or gut health benefits. This demonstrates a case where a food additive improves the health profile of a product. 

So while food additives are often present in plant-based meat analogs to help them better mimic traditional meat, these food additives aren’t necessarily bad for you. It depends on your own nutritional and health needs and the specific additives in any given product. 

 

Q: Which alternative protein has the most protein? 

A: The following is a table with some of the most common alternative protein sources and the amount of protein they provide per serving. Protein content data is available from FoodData Central, a USDA database. 

Perhaps surprisingly, spirulina tops the table with nearly 60 grams of protein in just a tablespoon. Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that has an exceptional nutritional profile. Other less conventional protein sources include insect protein like cricket flour or nutritional yeast. 

 

Q: Which protein source is best for muscle building? 

A: Of course, ample protein consumption is crucial to muscle growth, but not all proteins are equal. As we mentioned above and in our State of the Industry post, protein quality is judged by the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). Animal-sourced proteins like milk and eggs have the highest PDCAAS and therefore highest quality.

There is some evidence that higher PDCAAS proteins result in more muscle building. One study tested two groups of men who consumed macronutrient-matched amounts of soy or milk beverages on resistance exercise. They found that muscle synthesis was elevated in the group consuming milk compared to the soy group, suggesting that milk proteins after resistance training can aid lean muscle accumulation. 

 

Q: Is algae a good source of protein?  

A: As evidenced in the table above, algae is a surprisingly good source of protein! Which algae is rich in protein? Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s not only full of protein, but also vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This algae supplement often comes in pill or powder form and has an extremely high protein content – around 60%! 

 

Precision Fermentation & Dairy

Q: What’s the difference between precision fermentation and fermentation? 

A: Precision fermentation can be thought of as an extension of fermentation that adds genetic modification to traditional fermentation practices. If fermentation is the first generation technology, precision fermentation is the second-generation. If you remember from our previous blog post about precision fermentation, we compared fermentation to a basic calculator and precision fermentation to a computer. Still curious to learn more? Check out our video on the topic. 

 

Q: Does precision fermentation produce essential amino acids? 

A: Let’s first answer the question: What are essential amino acids?  Essential amino acids are a subset of 9 amino acids that mammals cannot produce themselves and therefore must acquire from their diets. Complete proteins are foods like beef, poultry, eggs, dairy, quinoa, and buckwheat (notice that both plant and animal-based proteins can be complete proteins) that contain all 9 essential amino acids. 

Precision fermentation can produce complete proteins like whey, casein, or lactoferrin. Lactoferrin’s amino acid sequence was analyzed in the 1970s here and contains all 9 essential amino acids. Individual essential amino acids can be produced through fermentation without the need for genetic modification. L-Lysine, for example, has a long history of production via fermentation. 

 

Q: How do I know if vegan labels are dairy-free? 

A:  Recent evidence shows that many consumers are confused about whether “vegan” means a product is free from common allergens like dairy. Vegan products are defined as those that avoid animal meat and animal byproducts, including milk. However, as technologies like precision fermentation allow us to make dairy products without cows, the lines can become blurred. In general, vegan products should be dairy-free, but our novel LF+ is the exception to this rule (just another way we are unique!). Your best bet to know if a product is vegan and dairy-free is to check for a vegan stamp of approval and the ingredients box and allergen statements that should indicate whether a product contains milk. 

TurtleTree’s dairy protein, LF+, for example, is certified as vegan despite containing lactoferrin, a protein normally found in milk. Regulations require all dairy-derived ingredients to bear an allergen warning “contains milk protein”. Hence, even though LF+ does not contain any dairy protein by-products and thus has very low allergic potential, the product still bears an allergenicity statement identifying it as a milk-derived ingredient. Anyone with a known milk allergy or dairy sensitivity should consult with a healthcare professional before consuming products containing LF+. 

 

Q: Is dairy bad for you? 

A: Especially recently, the topic of whether dairy is healthy has been hotly debated. To further complicate things, not all milk is created equally!  Pasteurization, which is intended to kill any harmful bacteria from milk, can also kill beneficial components of milk like vitamins, enzymes, or bioactive ingredients. Different pasteurization techniques have different effects and leave different levels of these ingredients intact depending on the length, temperature, and method of treatment. Essentially, the healthiness of a milk, depends, in part, on its pasteurization. Whey proteins like lactoferrin have been shown to break down after pasteurization and lose some bioactivity. This understanding has led to a growing raw milk movement, which advocates for the sale and consumption of raw milk that maintains its nutritional and bioactive properties. Of course, raw milk also comes with the risk of carrying harmful bacteria. One solution to this predicament is to use precision fermentation to add back bioactive ingredients like LF+ to pasteurized cow’s milk to deliver safe milk that retains its bioactivity. 

Pasteurization aside, the latest evidence suggests, however, that dairy consumption can have a positive health effect. One meta-analysis conducted in 2016 found that consuming dairy products was associated with a neutral or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

Dairy consumption was also inversely associated with some types of cancer. One reason why dairy products might be good for your health and other fatty foods are not is that dairy fat is contained within a milk fat globule membrane, a specific structure that may work differently in the body than other saturated fats which are typically viewed as unhealthy. But, every dairy product is different. Fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese are likely better for health because of the good bacteria they supply the gut. 

Of course, milk is also packed with components like osteopontin and lactoferrin, the milk protein closest to our hearts here at TurtleTree. These bioactive components contribute to nutrient absorption, immune function, and much more. 

 

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