One of the most contested debates in the fitness realm currently relates to protein and specific sources. With the growing number of individuals switching to the Vegan diet, people are hearing more about plant protein - such as pea protein, beans, Nuts, Lentils, Tofu. Now some argue that Plant protein is superior, and that we ALL should be switching to a plant-based diet. Thanks GameChangers on Netflix. However, more traditional fitness gurus claim that we still need Animal proteins to create a well-balanced diet.
So what then is the difference? Which one is right for you? Is Plant-Based Protein another fad, or is emerging science onto something?
FIRST OFF...What exactly IS PROTEIN?!
Before we get into the differences, it's worth noting - for those who may not know - what protein is, what it does and how it affects the body. So a quick breakdown of Protein!
Proteins help the body grow, build, rebuild and fortify! #flexemoji - so goes without saying we all need some protein in our life. The most obvious use of protein - Muscle Gains! Less obvious, hair growth, fingernail growth, and other intricate body regulations!
Protein, when further examined, is broken down into smaller elements called AMINO ACIDS, each one with its own unique feature that defines protein. If you remember those nerdy chemistry drawings, these AMINO ACIDS are linked together in a long chain.
So in order to create protein, we need all these different AMINO ACIDS. Thankfully, your body creates some of these - also referred to as "Non-Essential." HOWEVER, for protein to become its truest potential, there are some AMINO ACIDS which we can't create and have to get from food - these are known as "essential"
Here's a fun list of names of those ESSENTIAL Amino Acids:
histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
This leads us to Key Difference #1
Animal Proteins (beef, chicken, turkey, eggs etc.) provides all of the essential AMINO ACIDS needed for protein. Hot stuff! Plant Protein (peas, beans, tofu...) DOES NOT :-( Therefore, those on a Vegan Diet may find it more difficult to get the most out of their protein, as they're deprived of some of those essential AMINO ACIDS. Therefore, an optimal balance, or ratio is in jeopardy for those who stick exclusively to a plant-based diet. And thus, makes it harder to get those other ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS.
Key Difference #2
So currently it's 1-0 Animal Protein. To keep things balanced, let's put up a good case for Plant Protein.
Studies have shown over the years that some Animal proteins, with their COMPLETE PROTEIN benefits, can sadly lead to health risks. While Red Meats (steak, ground beef) are a great source of protein, they are sadly higher in Saturated Fat. (A...less preferable fat source!) Since our bodies only need very little Saturated Fat, this can be tricky when it comes to adequate serving sizes and getting good protein vs too much Saturated fat. Additionally, some studies have concluded that having too much animal protein in the diet can lead to a higher risk of cancer and other health complications *5 PLANT PROTEINS however carry much less health risks in general, and a lot of Vegan Warriors will say that it's better to avoid the dangers altogether!
Key Difference #3
OK, so we're tied 1-1. Now we get into the nitty gritty! This is where the studies come in.
Looking closer at Animal Protein, they contain other key nutrients which the body needs for optimal health. In Fish, we have an abundance of OMEGA-3's, which are GOOD FATS! (Remember, our body needs FATS, despite the negative connotations.) In Eggs, we see a healthy dose of IRON, MINERALS and VITAMINS, all essential for keeping us healthy as we age! (Eggs in particular contain "lutein" - a nutrient that prevents blindness!*2)
NOW HOLD ON A MINUTE! - say the Plant-Based Protein Advocates...
So too does Plant-Based Protein! Infact, studies have shown that those solely on Plant-Based proteins reap the added benefits of higher dietary fiber from Lentils, as well as a decent dose of protein*3 On top of that, NUTS, also rich in protein, help lower your LOW-DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN LEVELS which plays a key role in maintaining a healthy heart!
So...what's the takeaway?! WHO WINS?!
For me personally, I don't think I would encourage anyone to go EXCLUSIVELY Plant-Based. I of course fully respect people's decision to do it for personal reasons, and I know people who LOVE the Vegan DIET and feel great- and kudos to them!
But when it comes to making a choice based on health improvement, I think the BETTER CHOICE is to have a healthy dose of both. By adding a variety of Animal Proteins to our diet (and not just having steak everyday), AS WELL AS those plant-based proteins, we're setting ourselves up for healthier success.
The only other note I'll add is to those who maybe are suffering from HEART-RELATED ILLNESSES, or have other medical health conditions. OF COURSE, ALWAYS LISTEN TO A DOCTOR FIRST, but it would probably be advisable to REDUCE the amount of RED MEAT in your diet and increase the plant proteins a little more.