P is for Protein
NUTRITION TIP THURSDAY
P | Plant vs. Animal Protein
by Lindsey Herr
A protein is synthesized from building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are part of the human body, although hundreds exist. Of the 20, 9 of them are called ‘essential’ amino acids. This means our body cannot produce them and we must get them from our food.
Plants (vegetables, fruits, grains) are often called an incomplete protein because they do not have the high levels of essential amino acids that animal proteins have. Also, not every plant has all 9 of the essential amino acids.
Quinoa, and a few other plant proteins, are an exception. Quinoa contains 11 amino acids - 9 of which are the essential ones! This makes quinoa a fantastic way for vegetarians to meet their protein needs. Other examples of vegetarian complete proteins are black beans, cashews, chickpeas and more.
Vegetarians can get all the protein and amino acids they need by consuming a large variety of plant products. Variety, in anyone’s diet, is the best way to ensure complete nutrition. Challenge yourself to pick out a new vegetable each time you go to the grocery - don’t just rotate between broccoli and green beans!
Animal protein is a complete protein because it usually has all of the essential amino acids and in higher quantities. It is easier to obtain the essential amino acids from a serving of animal protein than it is from a serving of vegetables.
It is rare that anyone in America is protein deficient. Americans are so protein-focused and are often eating MUCH more than is required or suggested. As mentioned above, we are not only getting proteins from animal meat, but animal products and plant products as well.
Animal protein is often higher in some nutrients that plants often have very little of. Examples are vitamin B12, vitamin D, and heme-iron (the type of iron that is easier for our body to absorb and use). Along with being higher in these good vitamins and minerals, animal protein can also be higher in some not so great things, for example: saturated fats. Also, processed meats like deli cuts and hot dogs are full of processed ingredients and additives like sodium.
So….Which is better?
That’s for you and your personal preferences to decide! Both can be healthy options if done correctly. Vegetarians: be sure to get variety in your plants. Omnivores: be sure to not choose processed meats and to not overdo it with the animal protein - eat your veggies too!