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Microbial Protein: A More Sustainable Vegan Protein or All Hype?

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Microbial protein - Dr. Axe

Hidden deep within the volcanic springs of Yellowstone National Park is a powerful microbial protein that could be the next big plant-based product to hit supermarket shelves.

While it may sound too good to be true, the team at Sustainable Bioproducts has discovered a new product that has the potential to provide high-quality nourishment, without taking a major toll on the environment that other high-protein foods do.

Not only does this interesting ingredient pack in all 20 of the amino acids that your body needs, but it may also supply a wealth of other nutrients as well and can be produced using fermentation technology, with much fewer resources required than other sources of protein.

What Is Microbial Protein?

So what is a microbial protein, and how can it impact your health?

Microbial proteins, also sometimes called single cell proteins, consist of algae, fungi or bacteria that are used as sources of food for both humans and animals.

Mycoprotein, for example, is produced from fungi and found in a variety of vegetarian meat substitutes from brands like Quorn. Other types of algae-based foods, like spirulina, have also become much more mainstream among consumers in recent years due to spirulina benefits and benefits of these foods.

Recently, a unique lava microbe protein was discovered in Yellowstone National Park by Sustainable Bioproducts, a biotechnology group based in Chicago that was conducting research for NASA to study the survival of microorganisms in extreme conditions.

Within the hot springs at Yellowstone, the team unearthed a revolutionary lava microbe protein that had been able to withstand the harsh environmental conditions over the span of thousands of years. Not only that, but the microbe also contained all 20 amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids that can’t be produced by the body and must be obtained from food sources.

The team extracted the single cell protein and began studying it in the lab. Eventually, the researchers pioneered a fermentation process that was able to replicate the microbes and create a complete source of protein that uses less land, water and resources than traditional agricultural practices.

In addition to being significantly more sustainable than most other protein sources on the market, this unique microbial protein also contains a good chunk of vitamin D, calcium and iron as well.

Although it has yet to hit the market, Sustainable Bioproducts believes that it should be available to consumers starting next year.

If the thought of chowing down on a mix of microorganisms sounds unsettling, keep in mind that there are plenty of other similar products out there already, including kombucha, a fizzy, fermented drink that’s made using a culture of bacteria and yeast.

Furthermore, the concept of this innovative microbial protein may boast several health benefits and could be considered a more sustainable product for those following a plant-based eating pattern.

Potential Benefits/Uses

1. Highly Sustainable

One of the biggest potential advantages of microbial protein is that it’s much more sustainable than most other sources of protein on the market today.

Livestock production, for example, requires significant amounts of food, water, land, energy and natural resources. In fact, it requires almost 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef.

Microbial protein production is much more environmentally friendly and requires minimal natural resources, even compared to other plant-based protein foods like soy and hemp. This makes it a great option for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint and support sustainability.

2. Complete Protein

This type of lava microbial protein can be a great addition to a plant-based diet as it provides all 20 amino acids that the body needs.

It also supplies all nine essential amino acids, which are specific amino acids that the body is unable to produce. They must be obtained from protein-rich food sources instead.

Protein is essential to many aspects of health, including maintaining immune function, supporting tissue repair, and promoting normal growth and development.

Although more research is needed to evaluate the biological value of microbial protein and how well it’s able to be absorbed and used by the body, microbial proteins could potentially be a valuable source of amino acids for plant-based diets in the future.

3. Contains Other Micronutrients

Not only is this unique product a good source of protein, but it also contains several other important micronutrients as well, including vitamin D, iron and calcium.

Vitamin D, in particular, is a key vitamin involved in bone health and nutrient absorption. However, it’s found in very few food sources naturally and is primarily obtained from sunlight instead.

This puts those who get limited sun exposure at risk for vitamin D deficiency symptoms, which can cause side effects like bone loss, muscle weakness and impaired immunity.

Iron is also vital for health and plays a central role in the production of red blood cells. However, many groups are at a higher risk for deficiency, including women, children and those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Meanwhile, calcium may be most well-known for its ability to strengthen the bones and teeth, but it’s also required for nerve transmission, muscle function and hormone secretion as well.

Risks and Side Effects

Although the concept of this plant-based, protein-packed microbe may sound promising, there is still little research on its long-term safety and side effects.

According to one study published in Microbial Biotechnology, microbial proteins have been tested successfully in several animal models, but it remains unclear how this specific type of protein may impact human health in the long run.

Additionally, it’s unclear exactly what form the product will take when released and whether it will be in vegan protein powder or food form. Many consumers may also be averse to eating microbes to meet their protein needs, and although similar products like fungi- and algae-based foods have been successful, it may be challenging to sway some picky eaters into giving microbial proteins a try.

Therefore, while the product has the potential to totally transform what it means to eat sustainably, it’s still early in the development process and more research is needed on its safety and effectiveness.

Conclusion

  • Microbial protein is a type of single-celled protein used for food, which is typically made up of fungi, bacteria or algae.
  • Some common examples of microbial protein include mycoprotein and algae-based products like spirulina.
  • Recently, a new type of microbial protein was unearthed in Yellowstone Park by Sustainable Bioproducts.
  • In addition to providing all 20 amino acids, this new protein is also more sustainable than other sources of protein and contains vitamin D, iron and calcium.
  • While more research is definitely needed on the long-term safety and side effects of this new protein product, it could potentially be a great addition to a sustainable, plant-based diet in the future.
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