Vegetable protein vs. Animal protein

Vegetable protein vs. animal protein. Incomplete protein vs. complete protein. Low fat vs. higher fat. Delicious vs. delicious. Healthy vs. healthy. Gosh, what a dilemma! As you can see, choosing between vegetable protein and animal protein isn’t as easy as it may seem (unless you’re a vegetarian of course!). Each type offers its own variety of nutrients, and it is just as healthy to eat strictly vegetable protein (at least in getting the right amount of protein) as it is eating animal protein (as long as you don’t eat too much because it does tend to be higher in fat). Yes, there is truth to the statement that vegetable protein may be slightly healthier because it is always lower in fat, but then again, you have to eat a wider variety of it to get all the essential amino acids. That will be discussed in a moment. Let’s break it all down and see what we have in each.

Where They Come From

  • Vegetable Proteins – Veggie proteins come from plant sources such as beans, nuts, peas, and soy products.
  • Animal Proteins – Animal proteins, as the name implies, come from animals: meat, dairy, eggs, poultry, and fish. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian (you know who you are), eggs and milk are great sources of protein.

Incomplete vs. Complete
The next thing to look at is the level of amino acids. This refers to the essential amino acids present in proteins that are necessary to consume in the diet because the body cannot make them. Incomplete means it is missing one or more of the essential amino acids; complete means it has all of them. Vegetable proteins are usually incomplete (soy is the only exception), so you have to pair them with what is called complementary proteins. For example, eating beans (low in the amino acid lysine) and rice (rich in the amino acid lysine); grains and legumes (tortilla and beans); and grains and nuts (peanut butter sandwich). There are many other examples that would fit into the category of complementary proteins. Eating the pair together is the best way to get all the essential amino acids. Animal proteins typically have excellent levels of all the amino acids.

Lower Fat vs. Higher Fat
The reason I used the term “higher” instead of “high” is because not all animal proteins are super high in fat, they are just higher than the fat levels of vegetable proteins. It is hard to list every single protein and the amount of fat it contains, but as a general rule of thumb, lean meats, poultry, and fish are better choices fat-wise, and vegetable proteins are lower in fat than that. Since animal protein is higher in fat, specifically saturated fat, eating too much is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.

All the Other Good Stuff
The other nutrients present in vegetable and animal proteins are important to the overall package as well. They both offer abundant amounts of vitamins and minerals, many of which are the same. However, animal proteins are richer in some nutrients than vegetable proteins, and vice versa. For example, animal protein has a higher iron content and vegetable proteins are higher in fiber.

Healthiest Choices of Either

  • Vegetable protein choices that are healthier for you include: beans, tofu, soy, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some vegetables.
  • Animal protein choices that are healthier are: lean cuts of meat, seafood, poultry, milk, and eggs.

The Best of Both Worlds
Now that you know everything there is to know about vegetable protein and animal protein, the choice is a matter of personal preference. Each is healthy in its own ways, but with the right combination you can get all the nutrients you need with either one.

Last updated on Aug 15th, 2011 and filed under Nutritional Information. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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