About 20% of the human body is made up of protein. Because your body doesn’t store protein, it’s important to get enough from your diet each day.
When eaten, protein is broken down into amino acids. Proteins and amino acids are used for almost every metabolic process in the body, and are the building blocks for every tissue in your body.
Animal proteins tend to contain a good balance of all the amino acids that we need, some plant proteins are low in certain amino acids.
For example, some key plant proteins are often low in methionine, tryptophan, lycine and isoleucine.
Animal Proteins Are Complete, But Plant Proteins Are Not
In total, there are around 20 amino acids that the human body uses to build proteins.
These amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential.
Your body can produce non-essential amino acids. However, it cannot produce essential amino acids, which need to be obtained through your diet.
For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right ratios.
Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are similar to the protein found in your body.
These are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively.
On the contrary, plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils and nuts are considered to be incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that your body needs (1).
Benefits of Plant Protein
Diets high in plant protein, such as the vegetarian diet, are linked with many health benefits. Studies suggest vegetarians tend to have a lower body weight, lower cholesterol, lower risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure...
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... be obtained from animal sources. (5)
Iron: Heme-iron is predominantly found in meat, especially red meat. It is much better absorbed in the body than non-heme iron from plant foods, because of the anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectin.
Zinc: Zinc is mainly found in animal protein sources, such as beef, pork andlamb. It is also more easily absorbed and used from animal protein sources - again because of the phytic acid and lectin (6).
Of course, there are also plenty of nutrients found in plants that are lacking in animal foods - such as vitamin C, flavanoids, and fiber.
A wide variety of protein options is important. Plant protein is lower in complete proteins and other specific nutrients, but meat eaters need to get enough plant based protein as well. There isn 't any reason to avoid meat, but a diet primarily based around plants is important.
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