Protein, protein, protein...are you getting enough protein? No matter your diet—vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, Mediterrian or whatever else is out there these days—one of the main questions when you discuss your dietary choices seems to be: are you getting enough protein?
On one hand, it makes sense. Protein is a vital macronutrient and one of the building blocks of life. On the other hand, sometimes it feels like the whole protein discussion is intentionally muddled just to scare people into buying shit they don’t need. So, we want to help clear things up. For those of you who are wondering about the differences between plant protein vs. animal protein, keep reading. We’re about to clear things up.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is Protein?
A quick refresher on what protein is, and why it's important that you eat enough. Protein helps construct your blood, bones, cartilages, skin and muscles. It also has a role in repairing and maintaining your tissues as well as in the creation of body chemicals such as hormones or enzymes.
Contrary to popular belief, protein's primary role isn't to create energy from food but rather to build and repair tissues, including muscles, bones, and skin. However, it does slow down the absorption of glucose in your blood, helping to prevent crashing and making sure you have sustained energy.
Protein is comprised of different amino acids some your body manufactures itself while other ‘essential’ amino acids require supplementation.
Plant Powered Protein!
- Soy (edamame, tofu or tempeh)
- Lentils & Legume (chickpeas or peanuts)
- Seeds & Nuts (almonds, chia or hemp)
- Vegetables & Fruits (potatoes, green peas, broccoli, kale, avocado or mushrooms)
- Grains & Bread (quinoa, spelt, oats, teff, buckwheat, amaranth or Ezekiel bread)
- Rice & Beans
- Spirulina, Mycoprotein & Seitan
Although many experts agree that a diverse plant-based diet can provide you with proper nutrition, there is one common misconception we would like to clear up, and that’s the notion that plant-protein is incomplete and needs to be combined in order for you to make up the protein quota necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
You’ll read nearly everywhere that quinoa is one of the only complete plant-proteins, but the reality is that’s a big whooping falsehood. Rice is just as complete a protein as quinoa or steak. Think about it: both are ‘naturally occurring’ the only difference is plant proteins have varying levels of amino acids. But, you don’t need to worry about protein combining or adding animal protein to make up for varying levels of amino acids. Everyday, our body creates a reservoir of 90 grams of protein that can be reassembled to patch any deficiencies. What this means for those dependent on plant-protein is that when you eat a starch (e.g. rice or potatoes) and then mix in your fruits and veggies, you’re consuming all the nutrients required for robust health. In other words, if you eat a variety of nutritious whole foods and don’t have any preexisting medical conditions or an exclusive list of dietary restrictions, you’ll likely be all good.
If you need help with making healthy, delicious meals that are balanced between animal and plant-based proteins, grab our Nutrition Guide and Meal Plan. This ebook tells you everything you want to know about proper, balanced nutrition, and is suitable for vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike (check out the Protein Swapping page). It’s designed to help you feel more confident and comfortable about your nutrition, so you can enjoy your life in a stronger, healthier body.
Plant Protein Health Benefits
Vegetarians and other meat-free diets, on the whole, experience these health benefits as compared to their meat-eating counterparts.
- Decreased risk of heart disease: A diet rich in plant-protein reduces cholesterol and blood pressure for an overall reduced risk of heart disease.
- Lower body mass: Plant-based diets tend to be leaner. Eating nuts improves weight loss and consuming beans or legumes can help with weight management.
- Decreased risk of stroke and cancer.
All these findings support a plant-based lifestyle but keep in mind that research indicates that vegetarians and vegans tend to be more health conscious in general, which in itself could explain why they experience such vibrant health.
Animal protein and animal products like cheese are part of an omnivore's diet and an excellent source of protein. Unlike most plant-proteins, meat almost always contains all nine essential amino acids.
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, quail)
- Red meat (beef, deer)
- Dairy (milk, cheese or whey)
Animal proteins are not only rich in all the amino acids, but they also tend to have higher levels of specific vitamins and nutrients.
- Vitamin B12: Found in meat, fish and dairy. Vitamin B12 is a common deficiency for non-meat-eaters, which is concerning as B12 supports the formation of red blood cells, gives you energy, is heart-healthy and improves memory.
- Vitamin D: Is more bioavailable in animal products and found in fish, dairy and eggs. Vitamin D is best known for improving calcium and phosphorus absorption, but it also can help with depression, weight loss, fights disease and supports normal immune function.
- DHA: An omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish, DHA is not made by the body and is a crucial nutrient for brain, skin and eye health.
- Heme-Iron: Found exclusively in red meats, heme-iron is easier to absorb and supports the oxygenation of blood cells.
- Zinc: Found mostly in meat, zinc is an essential mineral (your body doesn't produce it) required immune function, growth and wound healing.
However, eating animal protein isn't without its controversy. Red meat is a hot topic of debate in that many emerging studies link regular consumption of processed red meats (hot dogs, lunch meats, dried, smoked or canned meats) to heart disease, stroke and premature death. However, sufficient evidence indicates that unprocessed red meats are exempt from the above findings.
The main concern with a diet rich in animal protein (beyond potentially needing to supplement for amino acids and vitamins) is fiber intake. Plants are fibrous whereas if you're more of a meat and potatoes kinda person you aren't likely getting enough fiber. So heed our warning and be sure to take in some fiber from plant sources!
Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein: What’s The Difference?
Protein is essential to life, and animal protein is complete while most plant-proteins have incomplete amino acid counts; but really what's important is that you get enough variety and high-quality protein to guarantee your best health. Animal protein has had it's credibility tossed into the meat grinder, that's why we see a boom in vegetarianism. But is it necessary to give up on meat if you don’t want to? Nope! The bad rep surrounds regular ingestion of processed red meats, like hot dogs. Unprocessed red meat and poultry don't have the same negative connotation, so both are solid alternatives.
At the end of the day, most of us are lucky enough not to live in survival situations where we have to eat whatever we can get our hands on. What’s more, with alternative plant-based protein products and whole foods readily available at the local grocery store, it is easier than ever to eat mostly or completely plant-based diets still get enough protein. You don’t have to scour the shelves in out-of-town speciality stores to find the flax or quinoa: more often than not, it’s right there.
Remember, if you need help creating the perfect nutritional balance for your lifestyle, pick up our bestselling Nutrition Guide and Meal Plan now.