For the most part of my childhood, I dreamed of being really tall, and I had no doubts that I would be. I mean, I loved eating beans very much.
I was made to believe that beans were the best source of protein. It’s a food I really couldn’t get enough of, and in my quest to become the greatest eater of beans the world would ever see, I had the staunch support of my parents. I thought my parents were proud of me for loving it. My mum even promised that I would end up being quite tall if I kept at it.
For those who know me now, I’m not exactly blessed in the height department. Beans failed at making me tall. My love for beans hasn’t diminished a bit. It’s just that I eat it just for the pure love of it now. There’s none of the previous added motivation from the promise of getting tall anymore as along the line, I realized eating beans doesn’t actually make a person tall. Even though proteins are generally credited for growth, height still depends largely on genetics. The purpose of this article is not to talk about what beans can or cannot do. We can however all agree that protein is just awesome and you’d probably also agree that all the internet’s fuss on protein being the ‘favorite child’ of the macronutrients is not unjustified.
Aside beans, some other great sources of protein from both plants and animals are: lean chicken, lean pork, fish, lean beef, tofu, lentils, low-fat yoghurt, milk, cheese, seeds, nuts, and eggs.
Proteins are very essential to growth. They are the building blocks of the body. They are also a fairly good source of energy. They are very important to bodybuilders trying to build ‘lean muscles’, people trying to lose weight, and of course people just trying to maintain a good health.
Protein, as important as it is for the body is however not stored in the body for later use. After the body has taken in or absorbed enough protein for its use, some part of it is utilized for energy after which the rest is converted into fat. Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen (another form of carbohydrate – though a complex one) and fat is stored as fat, but the body doesn’t store protein as a deposit of protein (it rather stores it as fat).
It is for this reason that it is important to consume enough protein every day for the body to work with because as something which is necessary for body growth, repair of cells, muscle building, and even fat loss, protein is not a macronutrient you want to be found wanting in. This same reason makes it reasonable to want to consume the best of it possible, in terms of quality and healthiness. This has sparked a debate on which source of protein is the best for one trying to maintain good health, build muscle or all the other good things protein helps with. Is the best protein gotten from plants of from animals?
Before you get in on this debate, there are important things you should know about protein; it’s composition, the good, the bad, and the limitations of both plant and animal proteins, and this is what I have put together for you below. The information will help you decide which side you actually are on. You’re welcome!
Amino acids are what make up proteins (but you most probably already knew that). There are 22 of these amino acids and the body needs a balance of all 22 types to function properly. 13 of these 22 are produced by the body. The other 9 cannot be produced by the body and is to be gotten from proteins that we consume. These 9 are called ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS, and any protein source which contains all nine is known as COMPLETE.
Plant based proteins
The major limitation of plant-based proteins is that only a few plant sources are COMPLETE (meaning most of them are missing at least one of the essential amino acids). Examples of the complete ones are; quinoa and buckwheat. Soy has also been found to contain all the essential amino acids even though it contains two of those in very little amounts. Due to plant sources missing at least one of the essential amino acids, it is important that vegans mix up their plant-based protein diet in order to get all the essential amino acids. Other plant protein sources are beans, grains, lentils, nuts, legumes, avocados, rice, peas etc.
Also, some plant protein sources take long to digest and be used up.
Plant-based proteins however have some advantages. Studies show that vegans tend to have a lower body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure levels than steak eaters. Plant based proteins will naturally come with these advantages too.
Animal based proteins
On the other hand, animal sources are complete sources of protein. Examples are: fish, eggs (different types), dairy products like cheese, milk and whey, red meat, chickens, turkeys, and quails, meats from horses, hares and boars etc.
The vegan diet has always been portrayed to be a healthier diet. Thus, it may also be assumed that plant proteins would be healthier than animal proteins. However, animal proteins have some health benefits too. For example, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy have been associated with lower risk of heart disease. Regular fish eaters are also likely to have lower risk of heart attacks, stroke and death from heart disease. Eating eggs has also been linked to improved cholesterol levels and weight loss. Also, eating animal protein helps to increase lean muscle mass and the reduction in muscle loss that occurs with age. This reason makes it ideal for bodybuilders and people trying to lose weight. Foods that contain animal protein also have some nutrients which are not found in plant-based foods. Some of these nutrients are vitamin B12, vitamin D, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Heme-iron, zinc.
Of course, there are also plenty of nutrients found in plants that are lacking in animal foods. Therefore, eating balanced amounts of both is the best way to get all the nutrients you need.
Animal proteins have some health disadvantages too. Red meat which is a high-quality animal protein source has been found to cause risk of heart disease, stroke and early death. However, it was later revealed that the problem only lies with processed red meat. It should be noted however that these health risks associated with red meat (processed)are not found in fish, turkey and chicken at all.
Except you are on a strict vegan diet that prevents you from eating animal products, then it’s okay to eat both plant and animal protein. You can however avoid processed red meat for health reasons. Animal proteins have an advantage in terms of muscle building and reduction of muscle loss in old age (whey protein, an animal-based protein supplement gotten from cheese production has been favored by bodybuilders over plant-based protein powders). However, rice, peas, and soy protein powders are also very good plant-based protein powders for building muscle as they have all 3 branched chain amino acids needed for muscle growth and decrease of muscle soreness.
Getting all the required nutrients is what’s most important in the end. Therefore, having a variety of the two types of protein sources to depend on is what’s ideal.
However, in the case of a person who’s on a vegan diet, having a good mix of two or more plant protein sources in order to get all the essential amino acids is needed.