What is the first thing you think of when people talk protein? Do you associate a high-protein diet with building huge muscles and “bulking up”?
Well this is not entirely accurate and it is important to understand that protein is an essential part of the human diet that helps to build, repair, and maintain the body's structures. Despite protein existing throughout the body, it does not store protein like it does with other macronutrients, so it is essential we obtain protein through the diet. We can increase our protein intake through the consumption of BOTH animal and plant proteins, however it is important to understand the DIFFERENCES between these types of protein to ensure a healthy diet.
Need a few good reasons to add more protein in your diet?
Plant protein vs animal protein
So, which is better? Animal or plant protein?
The short answer is you don’t have to pick one over the other. Rather than focusing on a single type of protein, it may be better to focus on eating a wide variety of foods to provide your body with a balance of amino acids and other vital nutrients.
However, if we want to get a bit more complex, it all comes down to the aminos! All proteins are made up of amino acids, although the type and amount of each amino acid varies based on the protein source. The primary difference between animal and plant proteins is their amino acid profiles. Animal protein sources are considered ‘complete’ protein sources as they contain ALL the essential amino acids whereas plant protein sources are considered ‘incomplete’ as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that the body needs to work effectively. These amino acid profiles control the rates at which the absorbed amino acids are utilised within the body.
Animal protein is much more similar to the proteins found in our body’s and are therefore used more readily and rapidly in comparison to plant proteins as these may take longer for the body to digest and use. Animal and plant proteins also differ in the nutrients each provide. Animal protein sources are higher in nutrients such as heme-iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acid DHA and zinc. Plant proteins on the other hand, are high in fibre and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of which are absent from animal protein sources.
Eating more plant protein may also improve a person's overall health according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Studies indicate that a diet high in plant protein has been linked to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Animal products usually contain saturated fat and higher levels of cholesterol in comparison to plant sources of protein and may contribute to chronic disease such as heart disease.
Amino acids explained
So, what are amino acids? Sounds complicated, right? Well Amino acids are basically the building blocks of protein. The body digests the proteins found in food and then breaks them down into amino acids. They are vital for bodily processes such as the protein synthesis, tissue repair and nutrient absorption. Some studies even suggest amino acids may also improve mood, athletic performance and weight loss.
The body needs 20 different amino acids to function properly. Despite all 20 being important for your health, online nine amino acids are ‘essential’. These are isoleucine, histidine, lysine, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and valine. These differ from ‘non-essential’ amino acids as they cannot be made up by your body and must be obtained through the diet. For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right ratios. This can be achieved through a balanced diet of consuming animal and plant-based protein sources. Having the right balance of amino acids can help build muscle and allow your body to recover rapidly from exercise.
Best sources of plant-based protein
Comparison of different protein powders
Protein powders are a quick and easy way to ensure your body is nourished and satisfied. But how do we know what protein powder we should be having? With there being so many options to choose from these days it can be overwhelming knowing what protein might work best for your body. However, like many other supplements, each type of protein has its pros and cons and it really comes down to what you are looking to get out of the product and understanding what products works best for you. There are a number of reasons people use protein powders such as wanting to lose weight, enhance athletic performance, build muscle mass and improve overall health and wellness.
Here a few popular protein powders discussed:
Daily protein requirements-
How much protein should you be eating each day? Well the “right” amount of protein for any one individual depends on a number of factors including age, gender, weight, physical activity level. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest consuming 2-3 serves of protein every day with 15-25% of our daily energy needs coming from protein! The recommended intake for adults aged 19-70 years is about 64g for men and 46g for women. However, keeping on the lower-end of the recommended intake (15%) is adequate to meet your requirements so long as you are getting in all the essential amino acids.
When should you be consuming protein? EVERY MEAL! Including protein with each meal helps increase satiety and effectively fuels muscle growth. Spreading your protein intake evenly throughout the day is an ideal way to consume protein! It is also important to consume protein after weight-bearing exercise as it is essential for protein synthesis and muscle repair. Protein requirements are significantly increased in individuals who are physically active as well as in older adults or those recovering from injury.
Dangers of eating too much animal protein
So, if protein has so many amazing health benefits why would it be dangerous to consume too much? Well, like all things in life, moderation is key. Yes, protein is an essential part of a healthy diet and helps build and repair bones, muscles and organs but it is important to not exceed the recommended intake and be aware of the potential health risks. Excess protein in the body is related to a number of health concerns, particularly if you follow a high animal-protein diet for an extended period of time. Here are a few reasons to not exceed the animal-protein intakes:
This excess protein will basically just contribute to excess calories and be stored as fat in the body, eventually leading to weight gain – not what we want, right? Animal protein also contains more calories and less (if any) fibre in comparison to plant protein. Fibre is strongly associated with weight loss and the lack of fibre in animal protein sources may contribute to weight gain.
Consuming a high animal-protein diet for an extended period of time may increase your risk of kidney damage and may lead to renal disease. This is due to the excess nitrogen found in amino acids and your kidneys having to work harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism. This extra stress on the kidneys and declining kidney function has been linked to animal protein, animal fat and cholesterol. No association has been found between kidney function decline and intakes of plant protein, with virtually no such stress being placed on the kidneys.
Consuming high amounts of animal products such as red meat and full-fat dairy products as part of a high-protein diet may lead to heart disease or other heart-related complications. This is primarily due to increased intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol found in these animal products.
High-protein diets have often been associated with an increase in cancer. Animal protein consumption triggers the release of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a cancer promoting growth hormone. If these levels remain too high, our cells constantly receive a message to continuously grow and divide! The more IGF-1 in our bloodstream means a higher risk for developing some cancers. Studies actually suggest a decreased cancer risk for individuals who do not eat meat! This is believed to be due to a lower intake of harmful hormones, carcinogens and saturated fat found in animal meats.
High intakes of animal protein has been associated with increased urinary excretion of calcium. Animal protein tends to suck calcium from the bones, potentially resulting in muscle loss and weakened bones. Studies have even suggested a correlation between high dairy and animal protein consumption and higher incidences of bone fractures.
Take home message!
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Tamara is such a friendly and down to earth person who has such an obvious passion for what she does! She walks the talk and is such an inspiration for health and wellbeing.
I first meet Tamara approximately 8 months ago when I attended her "Gut Initiative" workshop looking for answers to several health issues. WOW talk about an eye opener, I found everything started making so much sense, and have been implementing little things at a time.