Which is better protein source: Plant or Animal?
There has been a lot of buzz about plant based diet specifically after the movie “ Game Changes” was released on Netflix. Plant Protein has started earning its place on kitchen table alongside its animal derived counterpart. We are now wondering which source of protein is healthier?
Before we jump into this rather exciting discussion, let us first throw some light on what protein actually is
Protein is one of the vital macronutrients that plays an important role in growth & development by building & repairing body’s various all cells & tissues such as bones, muscles, organs & skin). It is also required for essential body functions such as blood clotting, hormone production to immune system response. All dietary proteins are made up of tiny organic compounds known as amino acids- thousands of them linked together. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids.When we eat protein, it gets broken down into singular amino acid building blocks & recombined in different arrangement & dispatched to perform those various jobs throughout the body.
So chicken breast & bowl of lentils may have different taste when it comes to protein it is made up of the same exact units. By the time you have consumed & absorbed one of those amino acids, it does not matter what its source was.
Let us discuss here about complete & in-complete proteins
As discussed above, protein when consumed get converted in 20 different amino acids. Out of these, 9 are essential amino acids which the body cannot make on its own rather comes from the food we eat. When a protein food offers all 9 essential amino acids in adequate quantity, it is referred as complete. Missing on either of those 9 amino acids is regarded as in-complete. This is where the difference between plant & animal based protein is evident. Animal based proteins are complete since it contains muscle tissues from animals ( breasts from chicken,fillets from fish, bacon & ham from pig) & products derived from them( eggs, milk, yoghurt). Plant protein includes lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds & whole grains are almost incomplete except few foods such as Soy & Quinoa. However this complete vs incomplete distinction is not that big as it used to be. Plant based proteins just lack 1 to 3 essential amino acids. Plant based food groups tend to lack in different amino acids, combining two foods help us eliminate this deficiency. For example, grains are low in lysine, while beans and nuts are low in methionine. However combining both makes the pack of amino acids complete. Timing of food is not that important as compared to the amount of protein & sources of protein throughout the day.
Rather than evaluating the nutritional adequacy, we also need to consider how much protein we are getting from different food items & how much is used by the body( protein synthesis). Rate of protein synthesis tends to be lower for plant based protein versus animal based proteins. In other words, less proportion of amino acids in plant based protein is digested, absorbed & utilized by body for various functions such as muscle tissue building. Animal protein has better edge that its plant based counterpart when it comes to ability to provide with all essential amino acids. Animal protein are higher than plant protein in one amino acid-leucine which is important for protein synthesis.
So if your only dietary goal, desire, or requirement is to make sure you’re hitting your protein needs as efficiently as possible, animal proteins are probably the way to go. And for someone who grew up with a diet heavy in hamburgers and chicken fingers, like so many of us here in the U.S., getting your protein from plants instead does require a conscious effort.
Besides this, we also need to consider the composition of food from which we are getting protein. We have to look at whole food package. Animal foods are rich in Vitamin D which is found in egg, cheese, oceania fish like salmon & tuna. Animal food is the only source when it comes to Vitamin B 12. On the other hand, plant foods also have its own unique advantages. They are rich in fibre & contains lot of phytochemicals — bioactive compounds including flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols that are linked to lower risk of chronic diseases.
Both forms of foods have different nutrient value. When it comes to protein, all plant foods contain some grams of carb. Animal foods such as meat, poultry & fish are virtually carb free. Dairy products contain some carbs in the form of lactose. Then animal foods have saturated fat fat although amount of fat varies widely from zero in fat free diary to medium in chicken & fish higher amounts in red meat.
There is a whole lot to consider when it comes to animal and plant protein. Just be sure to get plenty of protein as part of a generally nutritious, well-rounded diet — whether it comes from plants, animals, or both.
PS: Originally published on www.thesushantkumar.com