Animal Protein -vs- Plant Protein
Protein. It can be a big topic and a key point for some people’s diets. Unlike other nutrients, our bodies don’t store protein the same way they store other macronutrients. So you need to include protein in your diet on a regular basis to have the building blocks for growing and repairing your cells. Although obvious sources of protein include animal meats, there are plenty of plants that provide their own form of protein too. Today we’re going to look at the differences between Animal and Plant proteins, the pros and cons of each, and our recommendations to make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet.
To start off, we’re going to quickly recap what protein is. All proteins are made up of amino acids, or organic compounds that make up every cell. Our bodies require 22 different amino acids to function, but they can only make 13 of those by themselves, the other 9 must be consumed through our diets.
Animal proteins contain all 9 of these missing amino acids, which is why some have believed this is the better source of protein. However, there are many sources of complete proteins derived from plants. For instance:
- Hemp Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Nutritional Yeast
We’d also like to point out that your protein does not NEED to come from ‘complete’ sources. It may be convenient, but getting your protein from multiple sources may provide other benefits, like a wider variety of micronutrients among all the different protein sources.
As we stated above, animal proteins give you all 9 missing amino acids and are generally higher in Iron and Vitamin B-12. The protein in animal products is also highly bioavailable, meaning the body doesn’t have to work very hard to extract the amino acids and start using them. some animal proteins such as fish contain high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are excellent for cognition and brain health.
The downside? Overconsumption of animal protein can have some negative effects. Specifically, the consumption of red meat has been linked to having a shorter lifespan and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Red meats generally contain unhealthy fatty tissue, which is also not ideal in large quantities. That is not to say it should be outright avoided, studies show it may be best to consume red meats in moderation and go for lean meats like chicken or fish more often.
There are many benefits to getting your protein from plants. In general, plant-based diets are linked with lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, longer life spans, lower risk of heart disease, and lower risk of strokes and cancer. These benefits come from having a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet, which in turn give the body plenty of vitamins and minerals to function at its best. On top of that, plants offer a lot more fiber, which is hugely beneficial to the digestive system and overall gut health.
These benefits also come with some conditions. Although there are some complete protein sources derived from plants, the protein in those foods is less bioavailable in comparison to animal proteins. Again, eating a variety helps your body access the proteins it needs when it needs them. Plant proteins also won’t contain as much iron or B-12, so it’s important to make sure you include other foods with those vitamins in your diet as well.
We’d also like to point out that you can technically be on a plant-based diet, and still consume large amounts of processed, fried, or simply nutritionally lacking foods. Focusing more on ‘fresh’ and ‘nutritionally dense’ is better than focusing on if the foods you consume are plant-based or not.
Wrapping it up
So which one is better, animal protein or plant protein? It’s tough to say, and honestly, we don’t think there is a single answer here. We think it’s something that each person should think about while also considering any other dietary restrictions or needs. For instance, if you follow a Keto diet, it may be difficult to get all your protein needs from plant-based sources, while also staying within your carb limit for the day. In that case, we would definitely recommend including lean plant-based proteins in your diet. For others without those types of requirements, getting more of your protein from plants may be beneficial simply because of all of the other long-term benefits. The bottom line, we think it’s a personal choice, and one you should consider discussing with a nutrition expert or your doctor so you can find the best fit for you. One this is for sure though, keeping your diet balanced with a healthy mix of plant and animal proteins is generally a safe bet.