One of the most consistent criticisms of plant-based products is their lower protein quality compared to animal proteins. Canada’s plant-based sector is working to change this, and it’s an area in which Enhanced Medical Nutrition (EMN) has made significant strides.
EMN launched with the focus of selling evidence-based nutrition products to hospitals and surgeons, helping patients better prepare for and recover faster from surgery and critical illness. While they’ve been successful in this endeavour, they also want to expand their nutrition product offerings by providing patients with the option of a plant-based protein alternative to their animal-based protein products.
“A key component in helping people recover from surgery and critical illness is consuming adequate amounts of high-quality protein,” EMN Co-founder and CEO Eric Zimmerman said. “Despite a growing demand for plant-based proteins and Canada’s role as a major grower and exporter of plant proteins, there are none to date that compares to dairy-based whey protein isolate (WPI) on the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. As WPI is the current protein option in our protein-based products, we are working to commercialize a vegan version in partnership with Protein Industries Canada. Our vegan protein isolate will provide patients who cannot consume animal products with a high-quality plant protein alternative.”
In their effort to develop their new plant-based protein product, EMN launched a Protein Industries Canada project with Gruppo in February 2021. As part of the project, EMN and Gruppo utilized Canadian-grown and -processed plant proteins to develop a novel plant-protein blend. This blend is being tested for its effect on muscle health in a randomized controlled trial at McMaster University under the supervision of Dr. Stuart Phillip, a tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in skeletal muscle health in ageing.
After successful trials, EMN plans on launching their new plant-based protein product in the second quarter of 2023.
“Individuals who require a vegan diet and are scheduled for surgery or living with a critical illness will have access to high-quality protein supplements that, to our knowledge, will be nutritionally and functionally better than any other vegan proteins currently available,” Zimmerman said. “As surgery is a stressful event on the body that creates major metabolic changes, it puts patients at risk for a longer recovery when nutrition intake is compromised. By offering patients a vegan version of our WPI products, individuals who require vegan proteins will have a higher chance for a successful recovery.”
Knowing their nutrition needs will be met without putting their allergies at risk or sacrificing their moral dietary choices is both a relief and an ethical step forward for many patients—both of which Zimmerman and his team are proud to help provide. While achieving this goal didn’t come without its challenges, particularly in the areas of product formulation and limited internal resources, Zimmerman credits a large portion of their success to the support provided by Protein Industries Canada.
“Most notable was the connections available to us through the Protein Industries Canada Cluster and the funding provided. The connections allowed us to identify and liaise with protein processors, regulatory and IP advisors much faster. The funding was pivotal in helping us hire colleagues, order materials and work with high-end subcontractors and researchers to source, validate and now commercialize our new vegan blend.”
With commercialization on the horizon, Zimmerman and the EMN team are continuing to research and develop evidence-based nutrition solutions that will help patients across Canada recover faster from surgery and critical illness.