Is this vegetarian alternative to meat, made from mycoprotein, really a healthy option? We take a closer look at it's nutritional profile.
What is Quorn?
Quorn is a brand that uses a meat substitute called mycoprotein, derived from a natural fungus. The fungus is fermented in order to grow the mycoprotein, which is then made into various Quorn products.
Mycoprotein is naturally high in protein with 11g per 100g, and fibre at 6g per 100g. It is also low in fat (3g per 100g), saturated fat (0.7g per 100g), carbohydrates (9g per 100g), and contains no sugar and negligible salt.
Mycoprotein is a good source of calcium, which we need for strong bones and teeth, potassium, a mineral that helps to control the balance of fluids in the body, and phosphorus to help release energy from food. It also contains some smaller amounts of zinc, needed for wound healing, magnesium, involved in bone health and selenium which helps to support the normal function of the immune system.
How much protein is in Quorn and is it a complete protein?
Depending on which Quorn product you buy, and therefore what other ingredients have been added, the protein levels will vary from around 14-18g per 100g. Mycoprotein itself is a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids for adults.
How much fibre is in Quorn?
Depending on the Quorn product you buy, the fibre content will range from around 5g-10g per 100g.
What is a healthy portion size of Quorn?
If you are buying a Quorn burger, for example, then one burger would be one portion size, Quorn mince is then 75g per portion, sausages would be 2 sausages, and 30g or a couple of slices of vegetarian chicken slices is one portion. Check the individual Quorn products for the recommended portion sizes as it does vary from product to product.
Can you be allergic to Quorn?
There have been some cases of self-reported adverse reactions to mycoprotein-containing foods, where it has caused gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, or in some people an allergic-type reaction including urticaria (hives) and anaphylaxis.
According to the Food Standards Agency, quoted on the Quorn website, 'between 1 in 100,000 to 200,000 people will react' or be intolerant to Quorn products. An intolerance is different to an allergic reaction – an allergic reaction may be life-threatening. At the moment, mycoprotein is not classed as an allergen in the UK and so won’t be stated on food labels, but it is recognised as having the potential to cause an allergic reaction.
Those who are already sensitive to fungi, such as mushrooms, may find that they are sensitive to mycoprotein as well and so this food should be introduced with caution. Speak to your GP if you are concerned about allergies.
Be aware that Quorn products also can contain other allergens such as egg, milk and gluten which are clearly marked on the packets.
Visit the NHS website to read more about allergies.
Health benefits of mycoprotein
A small 8-week trial in 1992 was carried out across two groups of people with high cholesterol. One group were fed cookies containing mycoprotein and the other, cookies without mycoprotein. By the end of the eight weeks those who had consumed the cookies containing mycoprotein had reduced total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However, there have been no further published studies on this topic, so it's not possible to draw any firm conclusions about the effect of consuming mycoprotein on cholesterol levels.
A more recent study in 2016 found that mycoprotein increased satiety, thereby reducing energy intake, and also improved blood sugar regulation in those who were overweight. However, again, more research needs to be carried out before this effect could be confirmed.
It is worth bearing in mind that when you are buying a Quorn product it contains other added ingredients such as wheat, egg white, margarine, oils, salt and sugar (depending on the product) which collectively alters the nutritional value of the product so always read the label and use Quorn as part of a balanced diet.
More on nutrition for vegetarians
This article was published on 5 March 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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