Protein is essential to our staying alive, getting gains, and repairing ourselves. However, there is a lot of back and forth on whether or not plant-based eaters can get complete protein from their diet. Let's dive a bit deeper, today on our Food Myth Friday!
Protein: We can't store it, so we must eat it!
All proteins are made up of amino acids, and the amount and type of amino acid vary widely depending on what you're eating. So, let's look at the meat of this myth. Can vegans and vegetarians get complete protein? Well, Animal proteins are complete, and plant proteins are not. So, right off the bat, we run into a problem.
There are about 20 amino acids with which our bodies produce protein. They are broken into essential and non-essential amino acids. Our bodies can produce the non-essential, thus non-essential, but we have to consume our essential aminos in the correct ratios.
Animal proteins are, of course, more similar to the ones found in our bodies, and therefore considered to be complete. This is because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function optimally.
Beans, lentils, and nuts are considered incomplete because they lack one or more of the aforementioned essential aminos. Quinoa has all of them, but one would need to consume more than you'd think to equal out the same amount of protein as animal products.
I guess it's not looking too good for the green team.
Pros of Animal Protein
Complete source of the amino acids needed to synthesize protein in the human body.
Easier to digest protein.
More widely available in convenience forms.
Largely cheaper than plant-based alternatives.
Cons of Animal Protein
Linked to increased heart disease
Linked to increased chances of stroke
Linked to an increased mortality rate
Processed meats have been shown to increase cancer growth within the body
Linked to increased chances for high cholesterol
Linked to increased chances of hypertension
Pros of Plant Protein
Can be an excellent source of protein, but requires the consumption of many varieties of plants together.
Some plant proteins are complete, such as quinoa.
Lower risk of certain cancers.
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Lower risk of hypertension.
Lower risk of obesity.
Lower risk of heart disease.
You low key get to eat more food!
Cons of Plant Protein
Not a complete source of protein individually.
Learning the plant dish pairings can take a decent amount of time.
Have to eat an obscene amount to get the same amount of protein in animal products.
Less convenient to-go options.
Vegan protein powders are severely lacking in flavor options (compared to whey).
Some studies show that the body can't absorb as many nutrients from some plant protein.
The long term health benefits of plant protein set them ahead of animal protein, but the readily available animal protein seems to win out in our impatient culture. Cheaper, faster, easier, all-in-one package, and indelibly part of our culture.
So, neither one is definitely better, but neither plant-based eaters nor omnivores need to point fingers at one another touting their way or the highway. Both sides of the fence are able to fill their protein quota, maintain healthy macros, and get enough protein for their gains.
It's just that plant-based eaters tend to live longer and healthier lives... the choice is yours!