Animal Protein Nutrients vs. Plant Protein Nutrients

What’s a Protein?

Amino acids are like little Legos that your body stacks and builds into proteins. There are about 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are essential. As fate would have it, your body can only produce non-essential aminos. We’re on our own to find the essentials.

Humans are 20% protein. We don’t store it, so we have to eat it. Every day. We have a choice of plant proteins or animal proteins (or both), and a lot of people hold a strong opinion on which source is superior.

So, much like how we break down proteins for energy, I will break down this argument for your mental consumption. And I will not apologize for this adolescent analogy. We’re having fun.

Animal Protein

Animal proteins are complete — -they contain all of the essential amino acids your body seeks. I guess, if we’re keeping score, this is a point on the meat-eater board. But really it just means vegetarians can’t afford to be lazy with their research or their diets.

Animal protein sources do have a higher abundance of certain nutrients. B12 keeps your nerves and blood cells happy. Vitamin D supports calcium absorption. Omega-3 fatty acid DHA (found in fish) helps your brain stay healthy. Heme Iron is more easily absorbed, as opposed to non-heme iron (found in plants). Animal-sourced zinc is also more easily absorbed by your body than plant-sourced zinc. Your body recognizes animal-sourced proteins and nutrients because of the genetic similarities between human and animal, which is the reason for most of these advantages.

Animal proteins do, however, bring saturated fat and cholesterol with them everywhere they go. For non-organic meats, even the lean cuts, don’t forget to weigh in the hormones and antibiotics. Your plant faves could, and would, never.

Plant Protein

Plant proteins (except quinoa and buckwheat) lack one or more of your body’s essential aminos — -they are incomplete. Quinoa and buckwheat, the overachievers of this group, are seeds that just so happen to be complete proteins. Besides those little role models, you’ll need to mix and match for your body to get the complete protein. Grains, lentils, nuts, beans, legumes, avocados, soy, hemp, rice and peas are all excellent sources of (incomplete) protein.

Like animals, plants have their own specific nutrients. We call them phytonutrients. Carotenoids, turned into Vitamin A during digestion, keep your immune system healthy and eyes happy. Ellagic acid may play a role in protection against cancer, studies pending. Flavonoids may reduce certain types of asthma, cancer and heart disease. Resveratrol is anti-inflammatory. Glucosinolates help prevent cancer. Aside from the phytonutrients, plants also boast nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins.

Wait.. who won?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t keep score. I can’t conclude which type of protein is better for you, because every person on Earth requires a different diet based on their own genetics, health, lifestyle and tastes. Eat what makes you happy. Remember that health is wealth. Go for a diverse range of sustenance, rather than the same few foods over and over. Cast a wide net, as they say. Enjoy your life, enjoy your meals, and stay informed about all of it. Love you.