Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series that looks at the growth of the plant-based protein industry and how it could impact the poultry industry. Part I focuses on how plant protein won’t replace poultry. Part II focuses on the leaders in the global meatless protein industry and Part III takes a look at Tyson Foods entering the meatless protein market. 

If I’ve learned anything from the research I’ve done on plant-based protein products, it’s that it is very complex topic.

And if you are like me, you have a tendency to want the answers to all of your questions right away. But there is no quick answer to the question, “Are meatless protein products inferior to, similar to, or superior to chicken products in terms of nutritional value.” Nor is there an easy answer to the same question, only substituting the word “turkey” in for “chicken.”

There is a wealth of information out there, but how accurate is that information?

I know after attending the 2017 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit that even people who seem to be unbiased and authoritative may not be that way at all.

Registered dietitians Amber Pankonin and Leah McGrath, while speaking at the summit, cautioned that there are some dietitians that ignore sound science when dietary recommendations and inject personal biases into the conversation. In fact, Pankonin said she believed that some people who enter the dietitian field do so for reasons of activism.

Quick scan of online recommendations

In the vein of wanting quick answers, I took a look at a few online sources. These were sources that I thought ought to be unbiased.

With names like healthline.com and nutritionfacts.org, they should be pretty reliable, right?

On healthline.com,  Mary Jane Brown, PhD, RD, writes that meat and poultry products generally contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively. But plant protein sources lack one or more of the essential amino acids that a body needs.

Brown also wrote that animal proteins carry Vitamins B12 and D, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), heme-iron and zinc. Those same nutrients are deficient in plant-based proteins, Brown wrote.

I trusted and believed what Brown wrote, but I also acknowledge that I am a proponent of animal agriculture and want to believe all claims that put meat and poultry products above those advocated by vegans.

Going on to a second source, nutritionfacts.org, I stumbled across a video that compared the nutritional value of traditional chicken to “veggie chicken.” The 31-second video, shows a nutrition facts comparison to the two products, but it seemed apparent just by the tone of the speaker’s voice, there was a pre-existing bias against chicken.

Learn more

There is no doubt that there is much to learn about meatless protein products. I hope to learn more at this year’s Stakeholder’s Summit. McGrath will return as a speaker and will be joined by fellow dietitian Amy Myrdal Miller. The duo will share their views on what "plant-based" means, how and when the term become popular and how the agricultural community can come together to promote a balanced plate.

The summit will be held May 3-4 at the Renaissance Capital View Hotel in Arlington, Virginia.