What is the difference between plant and animal protein?

Horse @ kwadrat70

Horse @ kwadrat70

Animals such as horses, elephants, and rhinos eat only plants and get their tremendous strength exclusively from plant proteins. Can humans eat plant-based protein as well and what is protein anyway?

Protein is a macronutrient that the body needs in order to build muscle and maintain body mass. It is made up of 22 amino acids of which nine are essential amino acids. Image amino acids as letters of an alphabet and protein as words. The human body uses an alphabet of 22 letters to create words.

Amino acids are like letters of an alphabet, proteins are like words © halfpoint

Amino acids are like letters of an alphabet, proteins are like words © halfpoint

What are essential amino acids?

Essential amino acids are amino acids which your body cannot synthesize on its own so you have to obtain them through food. There are nine essential amino acids and they include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Your body can synthesize all other amino acids.

What food is the source of essential amino acids?

Plants are the source of essential amino acids because only plants can synthesize, or produce, essential amino acids.

Humans, just like animals, cannot synthesize essential amino acids so they have to obtain them through their diet and there are two ways that this can be done. One way to obtain them is directly from the source of essential amino acids, the plants, and the other way to obtain them is through the middlemen, the animals. Animals are middlemen and not the source of essential amino acids and because of this they have to obtain essential amino acids by eating plants or other animals who eat plants.

So we can get all essential amino acids by eating plants only because every plant on this planet contains every essential amino acid. Even bananas!
Essential amino acids in a banana

Essential amino acids in a banana

Are plant proteins complete?

Yes, they are. Even though some people think that some plant proteins don’t contain certain essential amino acids and hence consider some plant proteins as incomplete, in reality the fact is that all plant proteins are complete because every plant contains all essential amino acids. If you would like to confirm this yourself, you can visit the public database FoodData Central and check out the nutrient profile of any plant in the world such as ricebuckwheatlentilscucumberbroccolikaleturmericoreganoapple, etc.

Essential amino acids in beans

Essential amino acids in beans

Do plant proteins have to be combined?

No. Because some plants have a higher amount of one set of essential amino acids while others have a higher amount of another set of essential amino acids, some people think that plant proteins have to be combined. In other words, some people think that people on a plant-based diet have to consume equal amounts of all essential amino acids with every meal, but this belief, which most likely comes with good intent, arises from ignorance and we shall now clarify this.

The human body is very intelligent and has a reservoir of all amino acids that it maintains and uses for combining amino acids. This reservoir is not one organ, but it’s free amino acids which are present throughout the entire body and you can think of this reservoir as a piggy bank. When we eat a meal that doesn’t contain a certain amount of all essential amino acids, our body takes the necessary amount of amino acids from the reservoir, combines it with the amino acids from your meal, and then uses all that to synthesize a complete protein.

The reservoir of amino acids is like a piggy bank © viperagp

The reservoir of amino acids is like a piggy bank © viperagp

On average, the body sends about 90 grams of different amino acids from its reservoir into the digestive tract. This is a normal thing that happens every day inside the body and this is why people whose daily diet is centered around a whole food plant-based diet do not have to combine proteins. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can eat only tomatoes and cucumbers for an entire month, but it also does not mean that we have to combine proteins at meals.

Are there any significant differences between plant protein and animal protein?

Yes. Even though both plant and animal, as well as human, protein contains all essential amino acids, one major difference between plant and animal protein are the things which we get with those proteins. When we consume meat, eggs, and dairy, along with that animal protein, we also get cholesterol, high amounts of saturated fat, and no fiber. But when we eat fruit and vegetables, along with that plant protein, we also get a lot of fiber and antioxidants without any cholesterol because only animal food products contain cholesterol.

The other significant difference is that animal protein causes hyperfiltration which means an increased workload on the kidneys. Just within three hours of consuming animal protein such as tuna, the pressure on the kidneys goes up, while eating plant protein does not cause an overload reaction like hyperfiltration. You can find out more about that in this 3-minute video “How Not to Die from Kidney Disease“.

Which plants contain the most protein?

Did you know that calorie wise most green leafy vegetables are made up of between 35 to 50 percent protein? But since green leafy vegetables are low in calories, you cannot rely solely on green leafy vegetables for protein because in that case you’d have to eat several kilograms of greens a day.

The thing that would be useful for people on a plant-based diet, especially athletes on a plant-based diet, to know is that besides the fact that we get protein from every fruit and vegetable, legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas contain not only a great amount of protein, but carbohydrates as well and because of this they form the foundation of a whole food plant-based diet because they are rich both in protein and energy.

And so because every fruit and vegetable contains protein, it is unheard of for people on a whole food plant-based diet to be protein deficient.

Protein content in fruits and vegetables © matija.rs

Protein content in fruits and vegetables © matija.rs

Conclusion

All protein that we get from animals is recycled plant protein that comes with a package of garbage, cholesterol, and high amounts of saturated fats and because of this we can conclude that it’s much more optimal for us to obtain protein from the producers and not resellers. In other words, we should obtain protein by eating fruits and vegetables, and not by consuming animals and their milk.

To better health

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