The Never Ending Debate - Which Protein is Best?

Protein is an important nutrient. As most people know, protein helps build muscles. But proteins are also responsible for a number of different roles in the body! Let's learn more about some of these roles and its impact on your health.

Proteins are large and complex structures. They are made up of thousands of amino acids, and the combination of these amino acids determine each specific protein's function. Proteins can function as antibodies, which bind to viruses, bacterias, and other foreign particles to protect the body. As enzymes, proteins carry out thousands of chemical reactions and form new molecules. Messenger proteins like hormones carry signals between organs, tissues, and cells. Proteins also help form the structure and provide support for cells that allow the body to move. And finally, transport and storage proteins bind and carry atoms or small molecules throughout the body. 

Proteins clearly play a large role in how our body is built and functions. A wide topic of debate is what proteins are the best, and are there proteins that are less effective than others? Let’s dive into the different types of protein and their pros and cons.

Animal proteins 

When people think of protein, they think of meat and other animal products. This is because these foods are the most common sources of protein in Western diets, and many Western meals are centered around a source of protein. Animal sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products like yogurt and milk. 

Protein content in these foods will vary depending on the type of product or meat, the fat percentage or percentage of lean meat, and the serving size. A three ounce serving of pork or ham, lamb, roasted turkey, steak, or skinless chicken will have between 22-28 grams of protein. Leaner cuts of meat contain more protein than fattier cuts, because these cuts have more muscle than fat. These cuts include: top sirloin and side sirloin tip steak, eye of round roasts and steaks, bottom round roasts and steaks, and top round roasts or steaks. Not only is the protein content higher in these cuts, but the fat and saturated fat content is lower, making for a healthier cut of meat altogether. 

Some seafood has more protein than others. For example, a three ounce serving of salmon, tuna, and shrimp has 20-22 grams. A three ounce serving of lobster and scallops provide 14-16 grams. The most protein from dairy products is found in Greek yogurt, which provides 18 grams per six ounce serving. Cottage cheese and regular yogurt provide 12-14 grams. Pure Plates offers many animal protein sources, such as their chicken and turkey dish section.

Complete Proteins

One of the main arguments for animal proteins being superior to plant proteins comes from the idea of complete proteins. Think back to the amino acids we discussed earlier. There are 20 amino acids the body needs to function at its best, and 11 of these amino acids are naturally made by the body. We have to get the other nine amino acids, called essential amino acids, from our food. A complete protein contains all nine of these amino acids. Animal proteins naturally contain all nine essential amino acids, whether it is dairy, meat, fish, or eggs. Only a few plant sources of protein naturally contain these essential amino acids - quinoa, buckwheat, soybeans, hempseed, and blue-green algae. While these sources provide the nine essential amino acids, they may be lower in grams of protein per serving than a serving of animal proteins. 

However, worrying about complete proteins shouldn’t dissuade someone who is considering going vegan or vegetarian, or who wants to reduce their meat consumption for any reason. Incomplete proteins can be combined to create complete proteins, and this may be easier than some think considering dietitians recommend eating a varied diet regardless of your personal food preferences. Combining whole wheat toast with nut butter, whole grains served with beans (beans and brown rice, hummus and pita, etc), and beans with nuts or seeds (like a chickpea salad with sunflower seeds) are some easy ways to form complete proteins out of plant-based foods. Not every meal needs to feature complimentary incomplete proteins, but eating a generally varied diet should be sufficient to meet your protein and essential amino acid needs. Furthermore, there are benefits to plant based proteins that animal proteins cannot provide.

Plant Proteins

Embraced by vegetarians and vegans and scrutinized by meat-lovers, plant proteins offer a range of proven benefits. Protein is found in a variety of plant foods. More protein is found in beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds; protein can also be found in quinoa, leafy greens like broccoli and kale, and whole grains. These foods often contain less fat and less calories than animal proteins, and are strongly associated with a reduced risk for cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. 

Soy is a source of plant-based protein and is found in soybeans (edamame), tofu, and tempeh. It contains all nine essential amino acids, helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, helps control blood sugars, and may be preventative against cancer. 

There are benefits to plant proteins that animal sources do not have. One example is fiber, which is found in plant foods and not in animal products. Fiber helps control blood sugars, keep bowel movements regular, lowers cholesterol levels, and helps manage body weight. Plant sources of protein also contain vitamins and minerals that are not found in animal foods, or are found in small amounts. A diet that features a variety of plant and animal proteins can help balance overall health by providing sufficient protein as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Pure Plates offers a wide variety of plant-based protein sources. Check them out for yourself in the vegetarian menu section.

Final Words 

The “best” protein is the protein that is fresh and available to you, affordable, and suits your preferences. While animal products may contain more protein per serving and feature all nine essential amino acids, this does not mean plant proteins do not provide their own benefits or sufficient protein. Vegans and vegetarians around the world have lived long, healthy lives without animal proteins or with limited amounts. Individual protein needs depend on your weight, age, and your individual needs or goals. While the DRI for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, many researchers and dietitians agree that a more optimal goal for protein is 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein. This is an amount of protein believed to be sufficient in preserving muscle mass and preventing age-related declines in functionality and physical health as we age. 

There is a lot of conflicting information available about which protein sources are best, which sources to avoid, and how much protein we need. Remember - what works for one person may not work for you, and everyone's individual needs are different. Eating a varied diet with plenty of plant and animal foods (if you do not have an allergy or are vegan/vegetarian) from different sources and in adequate amounts can help you meet your needs. Protein is an essential nutrient, and there are benefits to getting protein from a variety of different sources. Pure Plates gives you plenty of options of protein to make sure your daily protein needs are met.