Protein is a key part of the human diet that helps us build, repair, and maintain the body’s structures. Both plants and animals provide protein, but there is some debate about which form is better.
Those who favor animal products point to amino acids - the “building blocks” of protein - as the reason we need to eat meat.
But animal products (especially red meat) can also contain lots of saturated fats, which can lead to high cholesterol levels. Plant proteins pack more nutrients into fewer calories and contain fewer saturated fats.
Plants also provide lots of fiber (something not found in animal protein). Fiber is an important player in digestion and gut health that has been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease.
While animal products do contain more amino acids than plants, it is very possible to get all nine essential amino acids from a plant-based diet. Quinoa and buckwheat are “complete protein sources,” which means they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Other plant-based foods that are rich in protein include: grains, nuts, lentils, legumes, beans, avocados, rice, peas, and soy.
As reported by the World Health Organization in 2015, red meat and grilled meat may contain carcinogens. Colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers have all been associated with red meat. Processed meats, including bacon and sausage, are also believed to contribute to colorectal cancer.
One of the only things you won’t get from a plant-based diet is B12, which is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk. Vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to take B12 as a supplement.
Overall, studies suggest that individuals who follow a plant-based diet tend to lead healthier lives than those who do not. According to a study published August 2019 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, plant-based diets are associated with a 31% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 20% lower risk of overall mortality.
“Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer a substantial health benefit,” wrote the journal.
In conclusion, most doctors and nutritionists will encourage you to obtain most of your protein from plant-based sources and enjoy animal products in moderation, like you would dessert.
Do you follow a plant-based diet? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!