About 20% of the human body is made up of protein. Since your body does not store protein, it is important to get enough of it in your diet each day.
You can get protein from many food sources, including plants and animals. Some people argue that the protein source, whether animal or vegetable, shouldn’t matter. Others suggest that plant protein is superior to animal protein. This article compares animal and plant proteins.
Amino acid profile varies between plant and animal proteins
When consumed, proteins are broken down into amino acids. Proteins and amino acids are used for almost all metabolic processes in the body.
However, the types of amino acids contained in different proteins can vary greatly. While animal proteins tend to contain a good balance of all the amino acids we need, some plant proteins are low in certain amino acids. For example, some key plant proteins are often low in methionine, tryptophan, lycine and isoleucine.
Animal proteins are complete, but vegetable proteins are not.
In total, there are about 20 amino acids that the human body uses to make proteins. These amino acids are classified as essential or non-essential.
Your body can produce non-essential amino acids. However, it cannot produce essential amino acids, which must be obtained through your diet.
For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right proportions. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, are similar to the proteins found in your body. They are considered complete sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to function effectively.
On the contrary, plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils, and nuts, are considered incomplete because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids your body needs. Some sources state that soy protein is complete. However, two essential amino acids are only present in small amounts in soy, and are therefore not comparable to animal proteins.
Some Nutrients Are More Abundant in Animal Protein Sources
Of course, proteins are rarely isolated. They are usually accompanied by a wide variety of other nutrients. Foods that contain animal protein tend to be high in several nutrients that are often lacking in plant foods.
These include in particular the following:
– Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is mainly found in fish, meat, poultry and dairy products. Many people who avoid foods of animal origin are deficient in them.
– Vitamin D: Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, eggs and dairy products. Some plants contain it, but the one found in foods of animal origin is better used by your body.
– DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish. It is important for brain health and is difficult to obtain from plant sources.
– Heme-iron: Heme-iron is mainly found in meat, especially red meat. It is much better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron from plant foods.
– Zinc: Zinc is mainly found in animal protein sources, such as beef, pork and lamb. It is also more easily absorbed and utilized from animal protein sources.
Of course, plants also contain many nutrients that animal foods lack. Therefore, eating balanced amounts of both types of food is the best way to get all the nutrients you need.
Certain types of meat can cause disease
Red meat is a high quality source of protein. Several observational studies have linked red meat consumption to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and early death.
However, other research has suggested that the problem is not with all red meat, but rather with processed red meat. In a large observational study including 448,568 people, processed meat was linked to an increased risk of death, with no effect for unprocessed red meat. Another study of more than 34,000 women made similar observations. In this case, processed meat was associated with heart failure. Separately, a large analysis of 20 studies found that processed meat was associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Again, no association was found for unprocessed red meat.
Other studies have confirmed that eating unprocessed red meat is not linked to heart disease. Despite this, one study found that replacing one daily serving of red meat with one serving of poultry was associated with a 27% reduced risk of stroke. Also, the health risks associated with processed red meat are unrelated to fish and other meats, such as turkey and chicken.
Diets Rich in Plant-Based Protein Are Linked to Many Benefits
Diets high in plant protein, like the vegetarian diet, are linked to many health benefits. Studies suggest that vegetarians tend to have lower body weight, lower cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. They also have a lower risk of stroke, cancer and death from heart disease than nonvegetarians (15Trusted Source).
A lower risk of heart disease
A study has shown that a diet high in protein (about half of which comes from plants) reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease more than a standard diet or a healthy diet high in carbohydrates.
Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
A small study in people with type 2 diabetes found that replacing 2 servings of red meat with legumes 3 days a week improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels. However, another small 6-week study in diabetics compared a diet high in plant protein to a diet high in animal protein. No difference was found in blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Protection against weight gain
Diets high in plant protein can also help you control your weight. An observational study of 120,000 men and women over 20 years found that eating more nuts was linked to weight loss. Likewise, eating one serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils, or peas daily can increase satiety and lead to better weight management and weight loss.
Animal protein also has health benefits
Animal protein is also associated with positive health effects, although it is often portrayed as unhealthy compared to plant protein.,The Nurses’ Health Study found that poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products were associated with a lower risk of heart disease. People who eat fish regularly are also likely to have a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.
Additionally, egg consumption has been associated with improved cholesterol levels and weight loss. In one study, women who ate eggs for breakfast, rather than a bagel, reported feeling fuller and eating less later in the day. Finally, the consumption of animal protein is linked to an increase in lean muscle mass and a reduction in the muscle loss that occurs with age.
Take home message
For optimal health, it is proven to eat a diet low in processed meat, high in plant protein, with some animal sources such as meat from grass-fed animals, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
Because plant-based protein food sources often contain lower-quality protein, vegetarians and vegans need to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure they are getting all the amino acids they need. For meat eaters, it is important to find the right balance between animal and plant foods.
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