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Plant vs. Animal Protein



What is Protein?

An easy way to remember which macronutrient, you first want to include on your next meal plate or snack time, is by thinking of the word proteos, which is another word for protein, and in Greek means “primary” or “first place.” [1] Dietary proteins are essential to consume because of the amino acids they provide, needed for synthesizing the body’s own variety of proteins (enzymes, hormones, immunoglobulins, transporters, neurotransmitters, binding proteins, receptors, structural proteins, signaling molecules, etc.). Proteins are emphasized because of the many roles they play throughout the body, where 40% are in skeletal muscle, 25% in body organs, and the rest are in the skin and blood. It is a primary nutrient needed to sustain life.


Animal vs. Plant Protein Foods

Animal protein includes a variety of meats, including red meat, poultry, pork, fish, and seafood, while non-meat protein sources come from eggs, dairy (cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, whey protein, casein protein & etc.), excluding butter, cream cheese, and sour cream.


Plant proteins come solely from protein-rich plant sources, usually made from soy including, tofu, tempeh, edamame, or even legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and grain products.


Amino Acids: Incomplete vs. Complete Proteins

Proteins are determined by their amino acids (AA), these are the building blocks of protein. After consuming protein from the diet (exogenous), they are metabolized, broken down into amino acids, absorbed in the small intestines then transported to the liver, where AA are monitored, broken down (during catabolism) or built up (during anabolism or protein synthesis) according to body needs. There are 20 AA, but only 9 are essential (indispensable), this means that the body cannot synthesize or make these in the body (as endogenous proteins), and they must be obtained from the diet. Animal proteins are great sources of complete proteins because they contain all 9 essential AA. Whereas plant proteins, are incomplete proteins because they do not supply all of the essential AA. Therefore, a variety of plant protein sources are needed to provide a full complement of the 9 essential AA.



Animal vs. Plant Protein Health Benefits

Including plant-based protein in the diet has been proven to be beneficial for overall health as it contains more fiber, helps to provide a healthier heart, decreases risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, as well as aligns with environmental benefits. [2-3] Due to the limiting amino acid in plant proteins, individuals need to consume more plant proteins to obtain the needed complete protein for the diet. This means that a variety of plant proteins, usually high in carbohydrates, will need to be consumed to achieve the goal of obtaining these complete proteins. Additionally, plant proteins have lower muscle anabolic properties, various strategies will need to be incorporated to improve muscle protein synthesis.


Respectfully, plant proteins provide an abundant of health and economic benefits. However, having an omnivorous diet, a mixture of animal protein and plants, can be more beneficial to health. Reason being, individuals obtain the same plant protein benefits and in addition, the allowance of animal protein in the diet which helps to maintain muscle mass due to their high volumes of essential amino acids from the animal protein sources (by help of muscle protein synthesis). In comparison to plant proteins, several nutrients including, iron, vitamins, and minerals are more accessible to obtain in red meats. It also incorporates omega-3, found in seafood and is an anti-inflammatory, heart healthy nutrient that supports brain functioning. The importance of an omnivorous diet is to be mindful of animal proteins quality. Choose lean meats, avoiding over consumption of both processed meats and red meats, can help decrease risk of heart disease and chronic conditions.


The good news is, both animal and plant proteins have health benefits. Choosing what is right for your health and personal beliefs can be accurately managed by discussing your nutrient needs with a Registered Dietitian to ensure optimal energy, nutrient intake, and absorption.



Until my next post... Namaste!


Melissa Marie




Bibliography

  1. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Carr TP. Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2022.

  2. Shaw KA, Zello GA, Rodgers CD, Warkentin TD, Baerwald AR, Chilibeck PD. Benefits of a plant-based diet and considerations for the athlete. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2022;122(5):1163-1178. doi: 10.1007/s00421-022-04902-w.

  3. Warme A. Plant-based protein - A simple guide to getting enough. www.chhs.colostate.edu Web site. https://www.chhs.colostate.edu/krnc/monthly-blog/plant-based-protein-a-simple-guide-to-getting-enough/#:~:text=Research%20indicates%20that%20replacing%20some,minerals%20that%20benefit%20overall%20health. Updated 2022. Accessed April, 2024.




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