Animal vs Plant Protein

Generally, the animal vs plant protein argument tends to be more about the morality or ethicality of eating meat rather than whether one protein source is better than the other. Whether to eat meat or not is a personal choice and not something I will be discussing here. My focus is just on the health aspects of the protein sources.

Animal Protein Sources

Most people think, meat, when you mention animal protein. Meat does contain complete proteins that are easily digested by the body’s natural enzymes. On the plus side, the human digestive track is very well suited to digesting and processing meat protein. However, meat is high in saturated fat and may also contain residual pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.

Whey Protein

Any discussion on animal vs plant protein must include whey protein, the king of protein. Whey, a byproduct of cheese production, is the ultimate source of protein. It dominates the field over soy protein, egg protein and all other protein sources. It has the highest known levels of branched chain amino acids of any natural food source, is low in calories, has the perfect ratio of essential amino acids, is quickly absorbed and has minimal carbohydrates and fats. A high quality undenatured whey protein will also contain little lactose meaning that those with lactose intolerances should be able to digest without any issues.

Plant Protein Sources

Whey protein is the benchmark to which all other protein sources are compared. Most plant proteins are classified as incomplete proteins where all animal based proteins are complete proteins. Cereals, most beans, and vegetables may contain all the essential amino acids, but the proportions and quantities are poor. Generally, plant proteins are more difficult for the body to extract and they are lacking the branch chain amino acids.

Soy

Although, soy has been marketed as an alternative to whey, when you take a closer look you’ll find that it is not an idea choice (see whey vs soy protein).

  • allergies to soy are fairly common and may increase with the more soy you eat
  • contains a plant compound, phytoestrogen, which mimics the female sex hormone estrogen
  • soy containing phytates block the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc
  • unfermented soy blocks enzymes needed to digest protein (majority of soy sold in North America is unfermented)
  • an estimated 90% of soy grow in the US is genetically modified (GM)

Plant Based Options

Only a few plant protein sources can directly complete with whey.

One is cyanobacteria protein (ie. spirulina and blue green algae) and the other is a blend of rice and yellow pea protein.

Spirulina and blue green algae are true super foods naturally containing 65 to 70 percent complete proteins. Since they contain no cellulose it is easily digested and quickly absorbed. So why have I never heard of them? They cost more than other proteins, don’t taste good, cause allergic reactions and may be high in toxins.

Rice and Yellow Pea

In the animal vs plant protein discussion the combination of rice and pea protein takes the best from both rice and pea for a product that is comparable to whey protein in essential amino acids, easily digested and is hypoallergenic. Rice protein is high in cysteine and methionine, and low in lysine, whereas, pea protein is low in cysteine and methionine, and high in lysine. This blend also contains branch chain amino acids only slightly less than whey.

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Summary

Even though animal protein is a “complete protein” and most plant proteins are “incomplete proteins”, by combining different plant sources, such as yellow pea and rice protein, you can produce a mixture containing complete proteins that are similar to animal protein.

In the Animal vs Plant protein debate all protein sources have pros and cons. A balanced diet should include a variety of foods. By eating a whole range of different foods you will provide the body with the proteins and nutrients it needs to be healthy.

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"Whey protein is the highest quality of proteins because it contains the perfect combination of overall amino acids."


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