In case you want to have a healthy body, it is highly important that you have a balanced diet that includes all the essential nutrients like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Because of the importance of nutrients like protein, you might be confused between plant and animal protein sources.
Since protein can be found in both plant and animal protein sources, choosing between plant and animal-based food items can be a bit confusing. Thus, we are here with a complete guide on plant vs animal protein, differences between proteins, benefits of plant and animal protein, and much more.
Protein and its Importance
Protein plays an integral role in the growth of the human body. It serves as the building block for your tissues and muscles. Proteins can also work as an energy source for your daily activities. When you incorporate protein into your daily diet, it improves your overall health and body growth. This nutrient also performs other body functions such as strengthening immunity, maintaining cell structure, acting as a catalyst in many chemical reactions, regulating the functions of hormones, maintaining organ structure, and ensuring the overall development and growth of your body.
Since you can get sufficient protein from both plant and animal food sources choosing the better one can be quite confusing for most. Thus, let’s take a deeper look at both of these.
What is Plant Protein?
Plant protein is the protein that comes from food items sourced from plants and trees. Even though plant proteins are considered “incomplete” by most, that is not the reality. While some plant protein sources may lack certain essential amino acids, you can combine multiple plant-based protein sources. These combine together and make for a complete plant protein source. Plant protein sources also consist of phytonutrients like antioxidants. These also include a lower amount of saturated fat and a higher amount of unsaturated fats.
What is Animal Protein?
As the name suggests, animal protein is the protein that gets sourced from animal-based food items. It is considered a complete protein and provides all the essential amino acids required by your body even if you don’t combine different sources together. And if you are consuming fortified animal sources, it can have higher quantities of nutrients Vitamin D, Heme-Iron, DHA, and Omega 3.
Similarities Between Plant and Animal Protein
Even though we are here to look at the differences between plant vs animal protein sources, there are still a few similarities between them. Some of the common benefits of plant and animal proteins have been given here:
- Both plant and animal protein food sources contain protein as well as essential and non-essential amino acids.
- These plant and animal protein sources also provide other nutrients to the body, namely fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- With either of these protein sources, you can fulfill your daily protein requirement which is needed for various body functions like tissue and muscle growth, cell structures, hormone function, and more.
Differences between Animal vs Plant Protein?
Apart from the various similarities given above, there are also various differences between animal vs plant protein sources that include the following:
Proteins consist of various amino acids and the human body uses twenty different amino acids to build proteins. While your body can make some of these acids on its own, you still have to get nine of them from a healthy diet which are known as essential amino acids. This is where plant and animal protein sources differ from each other as animal protein sources can offer all of them from a single source. On the other hand, you will need to combine multiple plant protein sources if you want to get all of the essential amino acids for your body.
Plant protein food sources are generally easier to digest than animal protein food sources.
Calories & Fiber
Animal protein sources are higher in calories than plant protein sources despite which plant protein will keep you full for longer. This is due to the fact that plant protein sources are high in fiber and complex carbs.
The nutritional value of both these protein sources differs. Animal protein sources are rich in vitamin D, Omega 3, saturated fat, zinc, and all essential amino acids. On the other hand, plant protein sources are full of fiber, unsaturated fat, potassium, magnesium, and essentially the majority of the nutrients that we need.
Animal protein contains heme iron which is more bioavailable than non-heme iron present in plant protein sources. In simpler words, heme iron has a higher absorption rate than non-heme iron.
Plant protein comprises more antioxidants compared to animal protein.
What are the Benefits of Plant Protein Sources?
Whether you don’t have access to a non-vegetarian diet or you stick to a vegetarian diet as per your choice, plant protein sources can be a great way to fulfill your protein requirements while being vegetarian. And unlike what you would expect, plant protein sources have various benefits as given down below:
Protection Against Heart Disease
As per studies and research, people who follow a vegetarian diet containing plant protein sources are 30 percent less likely to die from coronary heart diseases than people who consume meat.
Protection Against Cancer
Eating a plant-based diet also decreases your risk of cancer. Plants include substances called phytochemicals that help prevent cancer.
A Healthier Gut
Plant protein sources are also rich in fiber which helps you keep your weight in check and protect your gut health.
Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
People who consume a plant-based diet are at a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes than people who rely on animal protein to fulfill their protein intake.
What are the Benefits of Animal Protein?
Animal protein sources can also have their own benefits if included in your diet in a controlled quantity. This includes the following benefits that you enjoy if you are consuming animal protein sources:
Low Fat Animal Protein Sources Benefits
If you are consuming low-fat animal protein sources like poultry or fish, then you can have benefits like lower risk of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancers like colorectal, stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. More importantly, these low-fat animal protein sources can also help in weight control.
Easily Accessible Protein Source
Unlike plant-based protein sources, you don’t have to combine multiple food sources to get all the essential amino acids. Because of this, animal protein sources are more accessible and easier to cook since you don’t have to cook multiple food items at once.
Risks from Consuming Animal Proteins
Even though you get the benefits mentioned above, there are still a few downsides to consuming animal protein. According to a recent observational study, consumption of red meat puts you at an increased risk of strokes and heart diseases. But the research is not quite extensive and more substantial evidence is required to confirm the same. Some researchers also claim that these adverse effects may not be related to all kinds of red meat but processed red meat only.
Another study found that consuming large amounts of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 9 percent increase in relative risk of heart disease while eating large amounts of processed meat was associated with an 18 percent increase. Thankfully, these health risks do not have any links with fish or lean meats like chicken and turkey.
Which is better between Plant and Animal Protein Sources?
When choosing between plant and animal protein sources, it is essential to consider all the different nutrients that each of them has to offer. Foods rich in protein may have ranging nutritional profiles. For instance, animal protein sources contain high levels of heme iron, and plant protein sources are rich in antioxidants. The choice between the two remains subjective and also depends upon your requirement of the nutrients.
For instance, if you want to consume foods rich in vitamin D and Omega 3, go for animal protein sources since getting the same from plants can be difficult.
Similarly, if you want a fiber-rich diet, plant protein sources are a better option. The content of fiber keeps the digestive system balanced.
In other words, both plant and animal protein are good, as long as you consume them as per your requirement and in the right portion.
Alternative Protein Sources
Protein plays an important role when it comes to increasing muscle mass and reducing the time it takes for you to recover after your workouts. This nutrient helps repair and build up muscles after an extensive workout. Many athletes rely on whey protein to build their muscles. It is easier for the body to break down and absorb than certain food-based protein sources.
What are the Best Plant and Animal Protein Sources?
Protein is an essential nutrient not only to achieve good muscles but to maintain better overall health. Many sources of protein are beneficial for general health. You may consume the below-listed animal and plant proteins to improve your overall health and quality of life.
Best Animal Protein Sources
- Lean meat
- Poultry meat
- Seafood and fish like shellfish and salmon
- Milk and other dairy products like cheese and yogurt
Best Plant Protein Sources
- Soy products such as edamame and tofu
- Beans and legumes
- Ezekiel bread
- Chia and hemp seeds
- Wild rice
- Nutritional Yeast
The choice between animal and plant protein involves a range of considerations for many people. Rather than focusing on a single type of protein, we urge you to focus on eating a wide variety of foods. It will ensure you attain a healthy balance of all the vital nutrients and amino acids. We also recommend consulting a dietician to decide on the right portion of protein for your body. Hopefully, all the information about plant and animal protein sources given above will help in picking a complete and whole nutrition diet. In that case, make sure to leave all your thoughts and questions in the comments section down below.