June 22, 2023
We can get protein from a lot of different food sources. But did you know that not all protein sources are created equally? Tune into this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Brandy to learn all about animal vs plant based proteins.
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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.
BRANDY: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. My name is Brandy Buro, and I'm a Licensed and Registered Dietitian with Nutritional Weight and Wellness. On today's show, I'll be answering a nutrition question we received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners. So the question today is, “Can you talk more about why you recommend animal-based proteins or why it is best as opposed to eating protein from beans, tofu, tempeh, and things like that?”
Well, I want to start off by explaining that animal-based proteins like eggs and fish and beef and chicken, they are what we consider a complete protein. This means that they contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies need in about the right balance our bodies need to build muscle, build bones, maintain our organs, build brain chemicals, and the list goes on. So those nine essential amino acids mean that our body can't make them. They're essential because we have to get them from food. And not all foods are a good source of those essential amino acids.
Plant-based proteins like beans, grains, nuts and seeds, they do not contain all of those essential amino acids. Some plants contain some essential amino acids, but they always lack one or more, and they don't contain a high concentration of amino acids, and they don't really contain the amounts that we need to maintain healthy muscles, healthy bones, at least in the amounts that we typically eat.
So the amino acid content will be different based on the plant. So that also means that you need to be very mindful about the types of plant-based proteins that you eat, and be sure that you get enough of each variety every day so that you're getting the correct balance of amino acids that your body needs.
And we recommend most people consume at least 100 to 120 grams of protein every day for optimal health and to maintain muscle mass. So this means you should be eating somewhere around 30 to 40 grams of protein every meal. Meeting that goal is extremely difficult when you're relying on plant-based proteins that come from real whole foods that aren't processed.
For example, the following meal contains about 37 grams of protein, and this all comes from plant-based proteins. So that would be one cup of black beans, one cup of quinoa, three cups of broccoli, and about a quarter cup of almonds: 35 grams of protein. But that is, you know, over five cups of food right there. Can you imagine eating all of that in one sitting several times a day? I would say that it is not very likely for most people, and it takes a lot of planning.
And it's important to note here that this meal is also very high in what we refer to as concentrated carbohydrates. So that's foods like beans and legumes and grains. So those foods are very high in carbohydrates which break down into sugar when they're digested and raise the blood sugar. So those concentrated carbs like beans and legumes and grains are going to raise your blood sugar much faster than animal-based proteins. So that is a pattern of eating that can cause frequent blood sugar spikes that may contribute to something called insulin resistance.
So that kind of brings me to my next point of why we recommend animal-based proteins is because it is a better strategy for controlling blood sugar. It's very difficult to do with plant-based proteins and get all the amino acids you need. And many of our clients already struggle with insulin resistance or more advanced stages of insulin resistance, like prediabetes or diabetes, and they need to be very careful about how much and how often they consume those concentrated carbohydrates in order to control their blood sugar.
So for these clients focusing on animal-based proteins and being mindful of those portion sizes of concentrated carbs is an effective way to manage their blood sugar. Blood sugar balance is also the very first step in reversing that insulin resistance and the first step in supporting healthy, sustainable weight loss.
So I would add weight loss to my list of why we recommend animal-based proteins. Our clients are just more successful with their weight loss goals when they focus on animal-based proteins because they have better blood sugar control.
One other aspect of animal-based proteins versus plant-based proteins that I want to touch on is the bioavailability of different types of protein. So the bioavailability refers to how well our bodies absorb those amino acids from protein. So animal-based proteins are highly bioavailable, meaning our bodies absorb those amino acids very efficiently. We extract the amino acids much easier and it's put into action immediately. We can use those amino acids to build muscles to support our brain chemistry right away.
So this is especially important for those that might be recovering from surgery or an injury where you need to work really hard to build strong bones and repair tissues. And it's important for people that are just generally trying to build strength for endurance and mobility and energy. So I would argue that we're all striving to be better and stronger, so animal-based proteins are an easy way to access that.
Additionally, animal-based proteins contain a type of iron called heme iron. And heme iron is very well absorbed by the body. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, contain non-heme iron, which is not that well absorbed. In fact, 95% of the iron in our body is that heme iron. And iron is such a crucial nutrient for our body because it helps us make hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to all parts of the body.
So if you are iron deficient, you might experience fatigue or lightheadedness because you're just not getting that oxygen to the brain and the muscles. So animal-based proteins are going to give you a type of iron that is really, really efficient in helping your body deliver oxygen.
I hope that answers your question about why animal-based proteins are preferred over plant-based proteins. And it's not to say that plant-based proteins don't have their own benefits. We just encourage animal-based proteins for better blood sugar control and better utilization of those amino acids by the body.
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