We all know what protein is- but what is the difference between protein from animals and protein from plants? Is plant protein as good as animal protein? How do you pair plant-based food for optimal nutrition?
We answer these questions below. Going into a little more detail about both protein sources, and which one might be worse off for our health.
It’s easiest to explain what protein is and how it works coming from its most direct source- animals. Protein is responsible for the growth, maintenance, and repair of tissues and cells within the body. Animal protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, act as primary sources of protein.
Animal protein delivers all 22 amino acids your body needs to aid these functions which is why they are so protein dense when analyzing our macronutrients.
On the other hand, plant-based protein options such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of these essential amino acids. This is not to say, however, that plant protein does not have its own benefits.
Plants are incredibly versatile and a fantastic source of protein. If we go back to the 22 amino acids supplied from protein sources, only 9 of these protein chains are considered essential in aiding the human body. Plants, unlike animal protein, do not typically contain as many of these proteins from one source. However, including a variety of protein sources in your diet provides additional health benefits that include an overall higher nutritional value, vitamin intake, and mineral boost.
Benefits of plant-based protein
It’s about time we got into the detail of why plant-based proteins are great for our well-being. Sure, our bodies need protein irrespective of the source. But foods with plant proteins come with an abundance of health benefits that deliver that feel-good factor time and time again.
1. Plant protein keeps you fuller for longer.
Protein works in a way that once consumed make you feel fuller for longer. An interesting study found that plant protein is more effective at keeping us fuller for longer than animal protein. It was discovered that when young men consumed a protein-rich meal composed of legumes, they consumed 12 percent fewer calories in their next meal than if they had eaten a meat-based meal.
Experts believe the biggest difference here is fiber. Plant-based proteins contain whopping amounts of fiber in comparison to animal products. "Whole food plant proteins will keep you fuller longer than animal protein due to the fiber naturally found in these items" Berghoff says.
2. Pea Protein provides us with Iron.
Red meat is currently the top source of iron in the American diet, but pea protein is an easy way for vegans and vegetarians to intake a decent quantity of iron. Interesting points:
- One serving of vegan-friendly pea protein powder contains 35 percent of your DV of iron.
- One serving of animal-based whey protein contains 0 percent of your DV of iron.
Pea protein is not only plentiful in protein, it provides a substantial amount of iron too. Iron is an essential mineral responsible for keeping your blood and body healthy. Without it, your body can start to become weak and be at risk of anemia.
3. Nut protein contains healthy fats our body needs.
Whole nuts and nut butters are delicious. On top of that, they make sure our tummies are kept full and in good health and should be consumed in small quantities to get the maximum health benefits. For such a small quantity they also provide a decent amount of protein too. Win-Win!
Nut butters are a super convenient way to add healthy fats to your diet. These fats balance hormones, control sugar levels, and maintain a proper appetite. They're also easily digested by the body since they're already broken down into a creamy substance that's easy to absorb. Pair that with the amino acids (proteins) found in a variety of nut butters and a slice of peanut butter on toast is looking like a great alternative to eggs on toast!
4. Plant-based proteins can aid weight loss.
Eating plant-based foods isn’t just a health and fitness trend. There is actual scientific evidence to support that foods with plant protein will aid with weight loss. Something that is especially true when you are switching out saturated fats found in meat and dairy for plant-based foods.
Plant-based foods are proven to be fiber-packed, full of nutritional benefits, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, no more guilty snacking.
Animal protein versus plant protein Is there really a difference?
If we were to look at animal protein and plant protein side by side the answer to this question would be no. Protein is protein irrespective of its source, both are made up of amino acids, and they both contain the same 22 amino acids. However, the ratio of these amino acids is different.
While you may be able to eat one source of animal protein and receive all 22 amino acids in one sitting; vegan protein sources come from a variety of different places. So, while you could argue peas lack the protein methionine, foods like spinach, seeds, and nuts all contain this amino acid.
What it really comes down to is how prepared you are to source your protein from high quality vs low-quality resources.
Plant-based protein examples
It can be difficult to know which foods will provide you with the substantial protein you need. Especially when it’s easier to just reach for animal-based products knowing that your nutrition requirements will be met. You can read our article "8 plant-based protein alternatives for vegans" for a list of some plant-based foods containing a hearty amount of protein per serving or simply download our printable PDF here!
Plant-based protein vs animal-based protein- is plant-based protein better?
The argument here is that plant proteins are natural. They are vitamin-rich sources of protein in comparison to animal-based sources which are often accompanied by high levels of sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, as well as many nasty additives.
It’s safe to say that protein can be adequately sourced from plants. Sure, it's easy to get protein from animal products, but it’s just as easy to get it from plants- especially when you know where to look for it.
If you are looking to improve your health and steer away from nasty foods that leave you feeling bloated, lethargic, and guilty, choosing a plant-based alternative might be best for you.
So now we know that plant-based proteins can provide us with a substantial amount of protein that our bodies need to function, with the added bonus of being loaded with vitamins and minerals. We’ve also learned how to pair plant-based proteins for optimal nutrition.
Do you prefer plant-based protein over animal protein? If so, tell us your favorite source of plant-based protein in the comments. We love sharing plant-based inspiration!
Who do you think won this debate? Let us know.