April 4, 2017

Ask a Dietitian: Proteins

Question: Are there health differences between plant-based proteins and animal-based proteins?

MANNA RD: Before I go into detail about the differences between animal and plant proteins, it is important to understand the role of protein in the body.
Most of our muscles, organs, and cells in the body are made up of protein. One of the many important roles of protein is to support, build, and repair body tissues. They also provide the body with energy and build up our immune system.
There are some individuals that argue that a protein is a protein no matter what the source, while others beg to differ. Animal proteins are similar to those that are found in the human body, and also considered complete proteins.
This means that they contain all the essential amino acids our body needs to function. Even though they contain all the essential amino acids, animal proteins can also contain higher amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, which are contributing factors to heart disease when consumed in high amounts over a long period of time.
Plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains contain protein as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Even though they are good sources of protein, they do not contain as much as their animal counterparts.
For example, 3oz of chicken breast contains 21g of protein and 3oz of tofu contains only 7g. Since they also offer less g of protein per serving, not all plant based proteins offer all the essential amino acids that animal proteins do.
Balance is key in the equation of plant vs animal based proteins. If you consume animal proteins, choose seafood and lean cuts of meat as your protein source and try to balance your weekly intake with some plant-based sources. If you consume mostly plant based proteins, make sure to combine with whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread to make sure you are getting all the essential amino acids your body needs. 
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