Sarah Fruit, Morgan Higgins, and Dr. Bryant Keirns in the NACHO research lab.

College of Health faculty and graduate students often engage in cutting edge research to determine the next big idea, or breakthrough in treatment or management of common conditions. Dr. Bryant Keirns, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics and Sarah Fruit, graduate student in Nutrition and Dietetics, are conducting an engaging study to learn health effects of meat alternatives, such as the popular Beyond Meat Brand. Meat alternatives have existed before Beyond Meat entered the marketplace, but their brand, founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown, were launched in the United States in 2012. The company went public in 2019, becoming the first plant-based meat analogue company to go public, according to their company profile on
We asked the researchers a few questions about their project to find out more.

Why did you choose meat alternatives for the research project?

SF: Newer plant-based meat alternatives, in this case Beyond Meat present an interesting paradox. On one hand, there are proposed environmental and health benefits due to the absence of cholesterol and the inclusion of plant protein.  On the other hand, Beyond Meat is more processed than regular ground beef and contains more ingredients – two things consumers are increasingly conscious of.   While the producers of Beyond Meat have aimed to make the nutritional profile similar to animal proteins – there are still many differences between the two products, leading us to this study.

BK: While certain meat alternatives have been around for a while, there are several new varieties that have sparked consumer interest. I initially became more aware of these newer products during a research collaboration at my previous institution. The investigator we worked with was interested in these products as “ultra-processed foods,” but I found myself wondering if newer meat alternatives affected the health markers I was studying (markers related to gut health and the immune system) compared to traditional meat.  My sister is also a vegetarian, so I have been familiar with plant-based meat alternatives for quite some time.

What questions are you hoping to answer with the outcomes of this project?

SF: The purpose of this study is to determine if there is a difference between Beyond Meat and regular ground beef when looking at things like cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels as well as indicators of inflammation in the body. There is very little research on how plant-based meats impact the aforementioned markers of health, yet many individuals believe they will experience health benefits from consuming these products. While one study alone is not enough to support a claim that plant-based meats are better or worse for consumers, it is a starting point for more research. Hopefully, one day we can confidently have a conclusion on if these products are more beneficial than animal meat.

BK: We hope our study can contribute to what is now a small literature on how newer plant-based meat alternatives might affect peoples’ health. This project’s focus is to determine if there are differences in markers related to metabolism, the immune system, and gut health right after eating a meal containing a plant-based meat alternative versus a similar beef product. If there are differences in the short-term, then this could give us some ideas about what to expect with chronic consumption of these products to be tested further. This work, along with other studies, could ultimately inform consumer decisions, but I don’t think we are ready for firm recommendations just yet.

How do projects like this help people?

SF: Most individuals do not consume enough plant foods in their diet. There is a lot of evidence that supports increasing plant consumption as it can help reduce the risk of several diseases and improve markers of health such as cholesterol. Plant-based meats such as Beyond Meat and Impossible are increasingly popular due to the perceived health and environmental benefits. Projects such as our study have the potential to provide consumers with more information about these products to help them make educated choices.

BK: We believe these types of projects have potential to help people in a couple ways. In the short term, people who participate in our studies can learn more about their health.  We of course do not provide medical advice, but some of the information we can share is harder to come by (e.g., how your body responds to a meal). Participants often share information we give them with their doctors. Over the long term, we hope that our work contributes to larger bodies of literature that help people make informed decisions about what they eat.


Sarah Fruit and Ariel Johnson create burger patties to serve to research participants.

Working with Dr. Keirns on this project is part of Sarah’s graduate assistantship. She will graduate this coming December with future plans to take the exam to be a registered dietitian. Sarah says, “It is my hope to one day become a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. I am passionate about the link between exercise and nutrition and how athletes can optimize their performance through proper fueling. I am also interested in pursuing a PhD in hopes of one day becoming a professor.”
This study fits in nicely with other research pursuits of Dr. Keirns’ NACHO Research Lab, which is “broadly interested in how nutrition is related to the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Many of our studies are similar to this one and involve feeding people different foods and seeing how their bodies respond using different techniques.  We are also interested in studying people who might be at risk for cardiovascular disease but do not fit traditional risk profiles. For example, we have studied people who have a normal body weight, but have relatively high body fat percentage, among other populations.” If you’re interested in participating in this study, or following what the lab is doing, you can like them on Facebook, or  email them at They are always looking for research participants and would appreciate the support.