Plant protein has been rapidly gaining popularity among increasingly health-conscious consumers. But what exactly makes it different from its animal counterpart, and which is better?
Once, eggs, poultry, and other animal-based protein sources dominated consumer top-of-mind as key sources of protein. However, the advancement of agricultural and food technology in recent years have shoved plant-based proteins into the limelight.
Now this begs the question as to which source of protein is better for our health? Well, both have their own set of flaws and benefits.
The Problem with Plant Protein: Bioavailability
Generally, plant proteins are less bioavailable compared to animal proteins. This means that they are more difficult to digest, and only a proportion of the amino acids present within plant proteins can be absorbed by our bodies.
Most plant proteins are also known as incomplete proteins, as they do not contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that our bodies require.
Animal proteins on the other hand exhibit greater bioavailability and provide us with all the essential amino acids our body requires.
The Problem with Animal Protein: Increased Risk of Adverse Health Effects
On the flipside, although animal proteins provide us with all 9 essential amino acids and are better absorbed by our bodies, studies have correlated the consumption of animal based proteins such as red meat and processed meats with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and even premature mortality.
So… Should we be consuming plant or animal proteins?
Both plant and animal proteins have their own set of flaws and benefits, and consuming only one source of protein alone will inevitably lead to nutritional imbalances.
While animal based proteins best deliver all 9 essential amino acids to our bodies, constant and excessive consumption would not be beneficial for us in the long run.
On the other hand, although several studies have shown that vegans/vegetarians who consume only plant-based protein have a lower risk of contracting diseases, most plant protein sources are incomplete and do not provide us with all 9 of the required essential amino acids. Long-term consumption of only incomplete plant-based proteins would lead to nutritional imbalance.
What do you recommend then?
The path to a healthy diet is more than just eating the right protein. When it comes to eating right, the decisions that we make do not have to be binary.
For the non-vegans/non-vegetarians, varying your protein sources and eating them in moderation is the way to go. By consuming both types, we can plug the gaps that each source of protein has.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, take care to consume complementary plant proteins as that will help ensure that you receive all of the essential amino acids that your body requires. If you’re lost, we’ve compiled a list of complementary plant proteins below to help get you started. Feel free to save it for reference!
P.S. Did you know?
Barley has 23 grams of protein per cup and is beneficial for controlling blood sugar! It doesn’t quite qualify as a complete protein due to the lack of lysine content, but when eaten together with Lentils, they make a complete protein filled with fibre, folate (vitamin B9), trace minerals, vitamins, phytoestrogens, antioxidants… you get the idea. Just lots of good stuff! Try it for yourself here.