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The Difference Between Animal and Plant Proteins

Animal and Plant Proteins

About 20% of the human body is made up of protein. Since your body does not store protein, it is important that you get enough from your diet each day.

You can get protein from many food sources, including plants and animals.

Amino acids between animal and plant proteins

Proteins are made of amino acids. Proteins and amino acids are used in nearly every metabolic process in the body.

However, different proteins can vary greatly in the types of amino acids they contain such as:

  • Animal proteins: contain a good balance of all the amino acids we need.
  • Plant proteins: Low in some amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, lycine and isoleucine.

The human body needs a balance of 22 types of amino acids to function properly. The body cannot produce nine of these acids, called essential amino acids.

A complete protein source refers to a type of food that contains all nine.

Getting the right balance of amino acids can build muscle and help the body recover from exercise quickly.

Understanding the differences between animal and plant proteins is important for anyone who wants to make sure their diet is healthy.

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Which one contains complete proteins?

Animal foods are the highest quality protein sources. Plant sources lack one or more amino acids, making it difficult to get all the amino acids your body needs.

These amino acids are classified as either essential or nonessential. Your body can produce non-essential amino acids.

However, it cannot produce essential amino acids, which must be obtained through your diet.

For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right proportions. Complete animal protein sources such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

With the protein in your body. These are considered complete sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively.

However, some plant foods, such as quinoa and soybeans, are complete sources of protein.

It is important for vegetarians and vegans to mix protein sources and make sure they are getting all the essential amino acids.

Also, keep in mind that some plant protein sources may take longer for the body to digest and use.

Here are examples of plant foods rich in protein:

  • Legumes
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Some fruits
  • Soy
  • Peas

Many nuts, grains, and other vegetables also contain high amounts of protein. Plant protein sources lack one or more of the essential amino acids your body needs (s).

Bottom Line: Animal foods are the highest quality protein sources. Plant sources lack one or more amino acids, making it difficult to get all the amino acids your body needs.

Which is better animal or plant protein?

When choosing between plant and animal protein sources, it is important to consider the other nutrients that foods provide.

Protein-rich foods can have a variety of nutritional traits. It may contain some of the following sources:

1. Animal protein contains high levels of heme iron and vitamin B12, while some plant foods lack these nutrients.

2. Plant-specific nutrients, called phytonutrients, and some antioxidants are absent from animal protein sources.

3. Animal products contain saturated fats and higher levels of cholesterol than vegetable protein sources.

A person may want to avoid animal products for these reasons. Many used to believe that dietary cholesterol was linked to cardiovascular disease.

While recent evidence suggests there is no significant link, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) still recommends limiting dietary cholesterol (s, s).

4. Fiber is another important factor. Only plant foods contain fiber, which helps maintain a balanced digestive system.

Eating more plant proteins may improve a person's overall health.

5. Results from 2016 indicated that eating more animal protein, especially derived from processed red meat, may increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

However, the researchers note that they only found a link between animal protein and cardiovascular disease in people who had at least one lifestyle risk factor, such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, or being overweight or obese.

The results also indicated that eating more plant-based protein may help reduce these and other risks (s).

Bottom line: In general, the best way to cover a person's nutritional needs is to eat a variety of foods.

Which is better for building muscle?

Athletes and others looking to increase muscle mass and reduce the amount of time it takes to recover from exercise often pay close attention to protein intake.

Protein helps repair and build muscle after a hard workout. Many athletes turn to whey protein to build muscle.

This type of protein is easy for the body to break down and absorb, giving whey an advantage over other sources, such as meat, eggs, and vegetables.

Regarding plant sources, one study suggests that rice protein isolate may offer benefits similar to whey protein (s).

Many people recommend eating a blend of plant-derived proteins after a workout. This can provide the body with a range of amino acids.

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