Mycoprotein and health

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Mycoprotein is a high protein, high fibre, low fat food ingredient derived from fermentation of the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum. Interest in the putative role of mycoprotein in lowering blood cholesterol concentrations, reducing energy intakes and controlling blood sugar levels has generated a small number of human studies investigating the effects of mycoprotein on cholesterol reduction, satiety and insulinaemia/glycaemia.

In today's ‘obesogenic’ environment, in which there is an abundance of foods high in fat and/or sugar available to consumers, there is growing interest in foods that are both nutritious and satiating, but that are of low-energy density, and are low in saturates, salt and sugar. Mycoprotein has a favourable fatty acid profile (being relatively low in saturates), a fibre content that is comparable with other vegetarian protein sources, and a naturally low sodium content. Mycoprotein is a good source of zinc and selenium but the levels of iron and vitamin B12 in mycoprotein are low in comparison to red meat.

A small number of studies investigating the cholesterol-lowering effects of mycoprotein have been carried out among normo- and hypercholesterolaemic adults. The published studies to date have a number of limitations (including small sample sizes and short study durations), but overall the studies report statistically significant reductions in total cholesterol amongst hypercholesterolaemic subjects (in the order of 4–14%). These results look promising in terms of the ability of mycoprotein to contribute modest but meaningful effects on blood cholesterol concentrations, as part of a varied and balanced diet. However, the exact amount of mycoprotein that would need to be consumed in free-living populations to have meaningful effects on cholesterol is a candidate for further confirmatory research.

A number of studies have investigated the effects of mycoprotein in comparison with other protein sources on satiety. Several studies suggest that the effects of mycoprotein on satiety are greater than an equivalent amount of chicken but it is unclear what mechanism underlies this. The studies conducted so far are relatively small, and carried out under controlled conditions, so it is difficult to extrapolate the results to larger free-living populations.

The promotion of mycoprotein could potentially be useful, alongside other strategies, in the management of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as it appears to show beneficial effects on glycaemia and insulinaemia in the small number of studies where this has been investigated. More research is needed to better understand the mechanism of action whereby mycoprotein influences glycaemia and insulinaemia, and whether there is any dose-dependent effect.

This paper reviews the published evidence for mycoprotein and the topics above, draws interim conclusions about the role of mycoprotein in human health and identifies areas for future research.

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