Animal products have been receiving a lot of stick from the media lately – all we hear now is “plants, plants, plants!” In this blog post, we will uncover, from a nutritional standpoint, whether entirely switching to plant-based proteins is necessary.
The first distinction between animal and plant-based protein is that the former is complete, while the latter isn’t. What do we mean by complete?
Firstly, we need to understand what an amino acid is:
- when we eat protein, it is broken down into amino acids in our body
- amino acids are used for lots of vital chemical reactions in the body
- there are 20 different types of amino acid, and we need all of them
Animal products contain all of the essential amino acids that our body needs to function effectively – hence they are called complete. However, plant-based proteins are called incomplete as they lack one or more of the amino acids that your body needs.
So, being on a plant-based diet requires more research and variety of foods in order to tick off all those amino acids. 1-0 to the animals.
There are also many nutrients from animal-based proteins that we simply can’t get from plant-based sources:
- vitamin B12 (found in beef, liver and chicken) which keeps our body's blood and nerve cells healthy)
- vitamin D (found in red meat, oily fish, liver) which helps our immune function and protects our bone, muscle, and heart health
- heme-iron (found in red meat, poultry, fish) - a type of iron which is better absorbed by the body compared to non-heme iron from plants, making us feel less fatigued
- zinc (found in red meat, poultry, oysters) which helps our immune system and metabolism function
2-0 to the animals…
Of course, there are also several nutrients found in plants that animal foods do not contain. These include Vitamin C, flavonoids (a group of antioxidants) and fibre.
Due to these nutrients, there are many benefits to eating protein from plant-based sources, such as:
- lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease
- reduced risk of type-2 diabetes
- increased feeling of fullness and protection against weight gain
Plants definitely have made a comeback…
What should we take away from this blog post?
A balance of protein from animal and plant sources is ideal – our bodies will receive all the amino acids they need, as well as all the beneficial side-effects that both types of food provide.
But remember, the animal products that we do consume need to be unprocessed and moderate. The days of eating meat-dominant diets are over.