Exploring Plant-Based Proteins: Advantages and Challenges in Modern Diets

Senast ändrad: 22 februari 2024

Saeid Karkehabadi.

Dietary proteins play a vital role in maintaining human health as essential building blocks for various functions in the body. The importance of dietary protein is beyond simple nutritional requirements as proteins influence muscle development, immune function, and overall well- being.

Global population growth and climate change have posed challenges to food security. As a result, there has been a strong urge to shift dietary patterns from animal- to plant-based protein. Additionally, the demand for alternative protein sources has grown in response to concerns about the ethical treatment of animals as well as health considerations.

While the shift towards plant-based proteins seems to be a promising path for addressing sustainability and food security concerns, it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Plant-based foods are often rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, contributing to a nutritious diet, however, challenges arise concerning the completeness of plant-based proteins due to the lack of certain essential amino acids found in animal proteins as well as lower digestibility due to the presence of certain compounds like anti-nutritional factors.

Anti-nutrients can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients. Compounds such as phytates and lectins, naturally occurring in many plant foods, can inhibit the absorption of minerals and impair protein digestion. Furthermore, addressing consumer preferences is a significant challenge, as taste, texture, and overall sensory attributes associated with plant- based is often different from traditional animal-based foods.

My research focuses on exploring the impact of diverse processing conditions on protein- protein and protein-ingredient interactions in plant-based foods. The main objective is to optimize processing parameters designed for specific applications and enhance nutritional quality.

The research assesses the effects of optimized processing conditions on functional properties, including the solubility, stability of emulsions, foams, and gels. These functional properties play an important role in determining texture, mouthfeel, and sensory attributes, crucial aspects for consumer preferences.

In parallel, I investigate how these interactions influence the bioavailability of essential nutrients and minerals. By learning how processing conditions influence the release and availability of important nutrients, my research aims to contribute to the development of plant-based foods with improved nutritional profiles.

In addition, the plan is to do structural analysis of certain plant-based proteins, particularly legumes, using X-ray crystallography. This investigation aims to identify potential binding sites for substances such as saponins, tannins, alkaloids, phytic acid, and lectins that may contribute to off-flavours, undesirable tastes, and poor digestibility in extracted proteins. Removal of some of these antinutrients by extraction and purification is challenging as they often remain in the final product.

This research will lead to the development of tailored processing parameters for distinct food applications such as meat analogues and dairy alternatives, a process that necessitates understanding the complex interplay between protein-protein and protein-ingredient interactions and nutritional outcomes in various food matrices.