Protein is an essential macronutrient, but not all food sources that offer proteins are created equal. Proteins give structural and functional support by building and maintaining tissues & bones. The body does not naturally store protein so it has to come from our diet.
With many people altering their lifestyle and diet habits, including going down the more plant-based, vegetarian route, the question being asked here is: which is better? Plant protein or animal protein? Many nutritionists and dieticians don’t adopt a strict stance on protein sources, so the answer is a lot more complex.
TABIIB helps you understand more about protein sources, and what protein actually is.
What Is Protein?
Protein, at its most basic level, is an integral part of every cell in the body. It plays a crucial role in growth and development by providing structure and support to the internal organs. Proteins form the backbone of the enzymes that power chemical reactions and the haemoglobin that carries oxygen to blood.
A protein is made up of amino acids; a person’s body needs a balance of 22 to function correctly. The body doesn’t produce 9 of these 22 amino acids (called essential amino acids), which is why they have to come from an external food source. A total protein source refers to the food type that offers all 9 essential amino acids. This is where the difference in plant and animal protein starts.
Animal Protein Vs. Plant Protein – The Main Difference
The amino acid profile varies between plant and animal protein sources. The major points that can be highlighted are:
-Animal proteins are complete proteins: this includes beef, ham, pork, chicken and products derived from them such as eggs, milk, yogurt etc. Plant proteins, on the other hand, are almost incomplete. Only a few plant proteins such as tofu and quinoa are complete.
-Diets high in plant proteins have been linked to many health benefits such as lower risk of stroke, and lower cholesterol levels. While animal protein does have its benefits – eating eggs has been linked to improved metabolism and helping in weight loss – meat and its derivatives can lead to congested arteries and heart failure.
-Animal proteins generally offer a greater concentration of protein, notably in lean chicken and eggs, but plant proteins offer a more diverse and well-rounded protein source. This means that to get the amount of protein present in an average portion size of lean chicken, one must have to eat 2 bowls of different lentils and beans. While some may consider this to be a disadvantage, it actually helps in building a more balanced diet in the long run.
Which Is Better For Health?
As mentioned, proteins are a complicated field of study. The sustaining idea is that meat is essential for protein and that adopting a vegetarian diet is not a good idea in the long-term. However, many scientists are changing that stance. Consider this study: when scientists analyzed the data regarding dietary patterns of over 3,000 men and women, they found nothing conclusive that can point to plant proteins being better or vice versa. In fact, they noticed that in terms of muscle mass and development, it didn’t matter what the protein source was.
This led to a new idea in nutritional science – the protein package. When we eat foods for proteins, we also ingest everything else that comes with it. This includes fats, sodium, carbohydrates, and fibres. It’s this “protein package” that makes a difference to health.
Not all protein packages are created equal. If one’s goal is to hit a certain bar of consuming proteins, then animal sources is the way to go. However, that comes with its own problems. For vegetarians and vegans, the protein package is a bit different. They may have to consume more food which can lead to overconsumption, to make up for a lack of certain proteins.
The most important thing to remember here is that there is nothing inherently good or bad about these protein differences. People’s diets are influenced by their environmental and cultural factors. What works for one may not work for another. We’re all individuals with our own unique health profiles and dietary requirements. There are plenty of reasons why one may make a choice of one protein source diet or the other. However, when it comes to dietary changes, it’s crucial to make an informed choice. You can use TABIIB to book an appointment with a dietitian.