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Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

What is the difference between Plant-Based and Animals-Based Protein? This is a question that has been asked time and time again in the health industry. When experts speak on diet and protein, our attention is drawn to the question of whether or not plant-based protein is fully supportive to the human body. Well today, we are going to answer that question. First, what is protein? Protein is a macromolecule composed of amino acids. These macromolecules are brought into the body through food and allow our bodies to build/repair. Proteins are the building blocks of the body and are essential to our bodies function, as they assist in every process of our cells. Proteins are responsible for various bodily functions like breaking down food, growth, repairing body tissue, and more. The human body utilizes 20 different amino acids to build all the proteins in the body. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential because the body can not produce them on their own and they need to be consumed in adequate amounts through diet. Human bodies cannot function properly without protein. The amino acid building blocks of protein are absolutely necessary to be present and available when the body needs them to produce the specific proteins necessary for our health. There are various ways in which we can consume protein and the primary divisions are from plants and animals. When comparing these two sources, the main difference between the two is seen in their amino acid content. Animal protein is considered a complete protein source whereas not all plant-based proteins are. This statement is the forefront to why animal-based protein is sometimes labeled as superior. Complete protein foods contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids in a single food. All foods (including plant proteins) contain all 9 essential amino acids, but food that is low in one of the 9 essential amino acids is considered an incomplete protein. It is important to note, you can consume two foods together to have a fuller array of the nine essential amino acids, and that combination becomes a "complete protein" when eaten together – or within a short amount of time from each other. Even though many plant-based foods are high in protein, most vegan protein sources are incomplete. This is because the nine essential amino acids you need to get from food— named: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine—are typically found in lesser amounts in plants compared to animal-based foods. The plant foods that are considered complete proteins include: Quinoa, Buckwheat, Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame), Spirulina, Seitan and Seaweeds. In summary, animal-based proteins are complete protein sources and this is why many people think of them as superior. On the other hand, not all plant-based protein sources are complete proteins but a combination of them is. Thus, when eating plant-based one should eat with variety in mind. This is not difficult if you are educated but in a single swoop, without investigation, this statement can make plant-based protein look "inadequate".

Some tips on how to improve the protein quality of a vegan diet:

  • Choose a variety of plant-based protein sources. This will help you to get all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. Some good sources of plant-based protein include:

    • Beans and lentils

    • Nuts and seeds

    • Whole grains

    • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame)

    • Quinoa

    • Hemp seeds

    • Chia seeds

    • Seitan

    • Seaweed

Protein and Health When speaking on plant and animal protein it is important to note, animal protein has been linked to a number of serious diseases in our society. This is due to the other components of the animal that you consume when eating meat. Be aware of what you choose to put on your plate. Just because it is “high protein” does not mean it is good for you.

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