Plant Protein vs Animal Protein: Which One Is Healthier for You?

Plant Protein has a lower bioavailability than animal protein (Image via Unsplash/Brooke Lark)
Plant protein has a lower bioavailability than animal protein. (Image via Unsplash/Brooke Lark)

The bioavailability of plant protein is always a matter of concern for vegans and vegetarians. The quantity and quality of protein can vary among food items. It's often difficult to choose between protein foods whether you're a non-vegetarian or vegan.

In this article, we will compare the nutritional value of protein foods and compare plant protein with animal protein along with an in-depth analysis of how protein can impact health.


What Does Protein Do to Your Body?

Proteins are the building block of cells and their organelles and are composed of amino acid chains. Amino acids are required for the synthesis of most cellular molecules, including water-soluble hormones, signaling proteins, antibodies, and skin pigments.

Proteins play a huge role in the maintenance and repair of tissues. The body requires 20 amino acids to synthesize protein chains, out of which nine are essential, while the others are called non-essential.

Essential amino acids are required to be fulfilled from the diet alone, while non-essential ones can be synthesized in the body. However, plant protein and animal protein significantly differ in their amino acid composition.


Check out how much protein you need in a day

Animal Protein vs Plant Protein

Animal-based foods provide all 20 amino acids, making them the best source of complete protein.

Animal protein is highly bioavailable and easily gets digested and absorbed in the body, whereas the bioavailability of plant protein is comparatively low. Animal protein is the best when it comes to muscle gain.

The presence of good amounts of leucine in animal-based foods initiates rapid muscle synthesis. Animal-based protein foods are also a good source of branched-chain amino acids that play an important role in protein metabolism. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Examples of animal protein include:

  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • quail
  • salmon
  • herring
  • trout
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • eggs
  • fresh cream
  • processed cheese
  • cheddar
  • goat cheese
  • cream cheese
  • mozzarella
  • butter

Plant protein, meanwhile, often lacks an adequate amount of certain amino acids. These are known as limiting amino acids and may vary from food to food.

The absence of a single amino acid can prevent the absorption and assimilation of protein in the body. To prevent wastage of protein, it's recommended to include various plant protein foods in a meal to compensate for limiting amino acids.

Examples of plant-based protein foods include:

  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • pumpkin seeds
  • pulses
  • beans
  • legumes
  • watermelon seeds
  • peanuts
  • soy and soy products

Plant protein can also be obtained from vegan protein powders. They're usually made from peas, soy, rice, and other grains.

Check out the best vegan protein powders of 2022

How to Get More Plant Protein?

It's wise to choose foods that have higher bioavailability when following a plant-based diet.

Consuming too many legumes and pulses can cause flatulence and constipation. If you're not allergic to soy and soy products, try to include tofu and soy milk in your diet. The amino acid profile of soy products proves that tofu is the ultimate vegan protein source.

Tofu can be sliced into different shapes and cooked in different ways. Soy is low in calories, which makes it ideal for weight loss and muscle gain. It does not contain cholesterol and is a good source of non-heme iron and calcium.

Soy contains various beneficial compounds known as isoflavones, which have different properties. Soy is among the foods that can be consumed on a gluten-free diet.

Hundred grams of tofu contain the following nutrients:

  • 171 calories
  • 5.34 grams of carbohydrate
  • 10 grams of fat
  • 13 grams of protein
  • 418 mg of calcium
  • 63 mg of magnesium
  • 3 mg of iron
  • 279 mg of phosphorus
  • 173 mg of potassium
  • 2 mg of zinc
  • 25 mg of folate

Soy milk is another way to get high quality protein and is one of the best milk alternatives.


Bottom Line

In terms of bioavailability, animal protein foods are the best for muscle gain and maintenance of body tissues. However, vegans and vegetarians following a plant-based diet might not get enough protein in their diet. It's advisable to include different sources of plant protein to get all the amino acids required by the body.

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Edited by Bhargav
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