Best protein – Animal-based or plant-based?
All food sources of protein are not created equal. The amount of protein you get from one source may be different to another even when consuming similar quantities of the food. There are plenty of diverse protein sources on the market, but how should we select the best product to satisfy our needs? Read on to find out more about animal and plant-based proteins and what to look for in a protein supplement as a consumer.
Protein is a very important macronutrient that we need in our day to day lives. It is essential for our growth, to build and repair tissues such as muscles and ligaments, and to make chemicals that are vital for health, such as enzymes, hormones, and hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood.
Proteins and amino acids
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health) proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, just as amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are seen throughout our body; not only in muscle, but throughout our skin, hair, bone, and every body tissue. At least 18,000 different proteins make us who we are.
There are 20 different amino acids that our human body needs. The amino acids which are created in our bodies are called non-essential amino acids. There are 11 such amino acids. But the other 9, known as essential amino acids must be taken from the foods we consume, as they cannot be produced within us.
Unfortunately, many suffer from protein deficiency worldwide. This can result in growth failure, loss of muscle mass, reduced immunity, and weakened heart and lungs. Now you know how important protein is to our lives…
How much protein do you need?
The National academy of medicine recommends that an adult gets a minimum of 0.36g of protein for each pound of his or her body weight, each day.
For a 140 pound person – 50g of protein per day
For a 200 pound person – 70g of protein per day
It also recommends 10 – 35% of calories each day as an acceptable protein intake. However, research is still ongoing about the ideal amount of protein that should be in a diet.
So, what can you implement in your diet as good sources of protein? Well, protein is provided in both animal-based and plant-based foods.
What are animal proteins?
Animal proteins are found in meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and eggs.
Animal products are known to provide the highest quality of proteins because they give us all the essential amino acids needed for the body. Consuming meats will give you the highest amount of varying amino acids, but there are some disadvantages as well. Research has shown that eating meats high in fat and sodium leads to increased risk of heart disease, strokes and early death, particularly with high consumption of red meats. Studies also show that eating processed meats like sausages, bacon, smoked meat, hot dogs, canned meat, and salami can worsen this risk, especially death from heart diseases. Turkey and chicken have the highest protein content with less fat and cholesterol than red meats. Also, one egg gives approximately 3.6g of protein with no fat. Fish is also high in protein with little to no saturated fat.
Whey protein is one of the main proteins found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. This belongs to the animal sources of proteins. Whey can act as an antioxidant and an antihypertensive. It has biological components which show a range of immune enhancing properties, such as being an antibacterial and an antiviral agent. Whey protein used in some infant formulas is known to help reduce colic which can commonly occur in babies. Whey protein supplements are believed to improve the exercise performance in athletes.
Whey protein has become a popular dietary supplement. Many whey protein supplements and hydrolyzed whey infant formulas are currently available on the market; however, as any supplements, whey protein supplements are not well regulated, and you should always speak with your doctor before beginning to use any supplement.
What are plant proteins?
Plant-based proteins are found to be high in legumes, beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, quinoa, and leafy greens (kale and broccoli).
You can find that some plants are excellent sources of protein. The calories you obtain are fewer when compared with animal sources. So, if you are a person who needs to control your weight, going for plant proteins will be beneficial. Consuming plants does not increase the risk of coronary artery disease such as heart disease and stroke as well as early death.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will rely largely on plants for your protein needs. However, plant sources will not give you all essential amino acids like animal sources do. You will have to consume a higher quantity as well as a variety of protein-rich plant products to obtain your daily protein requirement and all essential amino acids. Supplements can be included, after consideration by your doctor, to achieve optimal levels of protein or amino acids if you are unable to consume enough in your diet. Nevertheless, there are many advantages to being vegan or vegetarian. Research has shown that the risk of cancer, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and obesity is low when compared to their non-veg peers.
Soy proteins are found in soybeans, tofu, miso, soy sauce, and tempeh. They belong to the plant-based protein sources. Soy protein is derived from soybeans and does not contain cholesterol. The soybean is a legume that is low in saturated fat. The importance of soybeans is that they contain all 9 essential amino acids. They are an excellent source of iron, calcium, vitamin B, zinc, and fiber, too. One point of consideration is the potential risk of endocrine and thyroid function disruption, which has shown to be a consequence of soy protein seen in cells and animal studies.
You can substitute soy protein for animal proteins as the nutrient value of protein is similarly high. There is also an added advantage as it reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Soy decreases your triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels, which are directly linked with heart disease. Research also shows that soy can help you control blood sugar and body weight. Furthermore, there are phytochemicals in soy products that have been found to prevent cancers. Therefore, the overall benefit of using soy protein as your main protein source is the promising health improvements shown by research.
What are protein powders?
Protein powders can be obtained from a variety of sources including eggs, milk, and plants. Some powders are made from multiple sources.
For example, vegan protein powder can include proteins derived from peas, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Milk protein powder comes as casein and whey. However, protein powders are not regulated by the FDA for safety. If you decide to buy a protein powder, read the label for ingredients as there may be added sugars, calories, and other nutrients.
What should a consumer look for in sources of protein?
Non-vegetarians may consume animal-based proteins such as fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, while limiting red meats and processed meats. Try to swap out red meat and processed foods with healthier options such as seafood and poultry.
Try to get your protein from plants, too. Consuming legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains is especially good for your health.
Let us look at an example:
- 4 ounces of broiled sirloin steak gives 33g of protein. It is a rich source of animal proteins, including all essential amino acids; however, it gives about 5g of saturated fat.
- A cup of cooked lentils provides 18g of protein and 15g of fiber. Lentils have no saturated fats but do not provide adequate amounts of some essential amino acids.
You can mix and match, so that your plate has a variety of proteins each day. According to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition, plant-based protein was absorbed less during the digestion process than animal-based protein. Animal protein has a higher protein digestibility and a superior essential amino acid profile. Therefore, animal sources readily provide the daily requirement of essential amino acids when compared to plant sources.
According to research, consumer demand for plant-based products is high and is expected to grow considerably within the next decade.
Here is a comparison of animal-based and plant-based proteins for your easy reference:
|Cannot get all the essential amino acids from a single source. Need a variety of plant sources to fulfill the requirements||Get all the amino acids from one source|
|To get the same amount of protein, you have to consume a larger quantity of plant-based foods||The quality of protein is good as animal sources are rich in essential amino acids and digestibility of protein is higher. Small quantity is
adequate to fulfill the requirement
|Little or no saturated fats
can help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels
|Can be high in saturated fats that increase cholesterol levels in the
|Rich in fiber
|No such benefit|
|Helps control weight gain
Associated with decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and early death
|Can give more calories
High fats and cholesterol in some animal sources increase risk of coronary artery disease
Processed meats are unhealthy
As a consumer choose your proteins wisely according to your needs and for your health.