Increasing legumes and reducing red meat is safe for bone health and protein intake

Faba beans

image: faba beans
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Credit: Suvi Itkonen

A study conducted at the University of Helsinki showed that partial substitution of red and processed meat with food products based on legumes and faba beans ensures adequate intake of amino acids in the diet and does not negatively affect bone metabolism.

“Reducing consumption of red and processed meat in the diet to the upper limit of the Planetary Health Diet while increasing consumption of legumes grown in Finland, such as peas and faba beans, is safe from a protein nutrition point of view. Likewise, bone health is also not compromised by such dietary changes,” said Docent Suvi Itkonen from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

In the BeanMan study, 102 Finnish men followed a six-week diet study.

  • One group consumed 760 grams of red and processed meat per week, which is 25% of total protein intake. This amount corresponds to the average protein consumption of Finnish men.
  • The other group consumed legume-based food products, especially peas and faba beans, which accounted for 20% of their total protein intake. In addition, the amount of red and processed meat consumed per week in this group reached the upper limit of the Planetary Health Diet (200 g or 5% of total protein intake).

Otherwise, study subjects followed their eating habits but were not allowed to eat red or processed meat or nuts other than as provided by the study.

The researchers found no differences between the diet groups in markers of bone formation or resorption. Intake of calcium or vitamin D also did not differ between groups. Calcium intake is within current dietary recommendations, and vitamin D intake is very close to recommended. The average intake of essential amino acids and protein met the recommendations in both groups.

“Reducing meat consumption is very important in terms of environmental impact,” Cry notes.

A plant-based diet is becoming increasingly popular, and the recently updated Nordic Nutrition Recommendations also emphasize limiting meat and dairy consumption in moderation.

“In this study, subjects consumed dairy products according to their eating habits, so their intake of calcium and vitamin D did not change. However, when it comes to bone health, it is important to remember that if a person is reducing the amount of dairy in their diet, it is necessary to ensure that they are getting calcium and vitamin D from other sources. These sources can be in the form of plant-based drinks and products such as yogurt fortified with these nutrients or, when necessary, dietary supplements,” said Itkonen.

Other findings in the BeanMan study related to lipid metabolism, gut health, and nutritional intake will be published later.

Leg4Life (Nuts for a Sustainable Food System and Healthy Living – Palkokasveilla kohti kestävää ruokajärjestelmää ja terveyttä) is a multidisciplinary project funded by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. Leg4Life aims to achieve comprehensive societal change towards healthier food systems and climate neutral food production and consumption by increasing the use of legumes. There are five extensive work packages in the project covering the entire food chain from farm to table, all researching legumes that thrive in Finland’s boreal conditions.

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