Plant-based proteins are all the rave right now. You can’t walk down the health aisle of your local grocery store and not see a plant-based protein product on the shelf. If you asked yourself, “are plant-based proteins just as good as animal-based proteins or whey protein,” you’re not alone. Even collagen is a protein, and collagen is sourced from animals. However, collagen is not a complete protein.
If all of these terms are hard to keep up with, don’t worry. I’m going to tell you the differences between all of the sources of protein, why the term “complete protein” is important, and why animal-based proteins are better than plant-based.
It’s no secret that a high-protein diet has many benefits from promoting weight loss, to making you feel fuller, to increasing muscle mass. Before I get into the world of animal-based protein and plant-based, let’s have a quick refresher on why you need protein in your diet.
Why You Need Protein
Protein is one of three macronutrients, which also include carbohydrates and fats.1 These nutrients are called macronutrients because your body needs them in high amounts.
Of the three macronutrients, protein is the most critical to achieving optimal health. Your body needs protein to perform many functions including repairing its own tissues to supplying your body with energy. In fact, protein is the building block of your body.2
Protein molecules provide structure to many parts of your body, including your muscles, skin, and organs. It also plays an important role in hormone production. Without adequate protein in our daily diet we wouldn’t be able to maintain, repair, nor generate new tissues.
Molecules of protein are made up of hundreds or thousands of amino acids linked together in “chains.” Without amino acids, your body could not make protein.
Three Groups of Amino Acids
There are 20 amino acids that fall into two primary categories – nonessential and essential. What differentiates the two is the source. Your body can make nonessential amino acids such as glycine, arginine, and proline, which link together to form collagen. Vitamin C supports the process of converting these amino acids into collagen proteins.3
Some nonessential amino acids such as glutamine, arginine, cysteine, and tyrosine are considered conditional, which means your body loses the ability to make them if you suffered an injury, have a chronic illness, are pregnant, or under stress. In these cases, it’s important to get enough protein in your diet or through a supplement.
Essential Amino Acids
There are 9 essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own and can only get it from the food you eat. Tofu is the only plant-based food that contains all nine essential amino acids. That means that plant-based protein supplements probably don’t have all nine essential amino acids.
The 9 essential amino acids include:
Foods high in essential amino acids include grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild-caught seafood, eggs and cow’s dairy. These essential amino acids play a role in the formation of blood cells, wound healing, supporting your immune system, promoting healthy hair, skin, and nails, and building muscle tissue.
Now that you understand the types of amino acids and why they are so important to building proteins, let’s get more into the sources of protein in your diet.
Sources of Protein in Your Diet
As I’ve mentioned, protein is found in animals, cow’s dairy, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Generally, only animal-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids. The only exception is tofu, however, some studies have found that quinoa, buckwheat, and soy are also complete proteins.4 The problem with quinoa and buckwheat is that they are grains, and the protein found in grains is gluten. Gluten is the No. 1 cause of leaky gut, which is the precursor to autoimmunity. I recommend that everyone remove gluten from their diets because it is an inflammatory food. Gluten and casein, a protein found in cow’s dairy, share a similar molecular structure. If you have a sensitivity to gluten, you likely also have a sensitivity to casein. Before I get more into that, I’m going to talk more about sources of protein.
Animal proteins are complete proteins and contain all nine amino acids. Seafood such as wild-caught fish are known for their high-quality protein, high amounts of vitamin B and vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain minerals such as potassium and selenium.
Another excellent source of protein is organic, grass-fed meat. There are so many choices depending on the animal, the cut, and where and how it was raised. Lean, red meat such as bison is low in total fat and salt. Untrimmed beef, lamb, and pork is higher in total and saturated fat. Meat and poultry are high in protein, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and D, amino acids, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
I get all of my meat from ButcherBox. It is so convenient. I just tell them what I want and they deliver it straight to my door. It takes out the guessing of whether or not your beef is completely grass-fed. It also ensures the cow the beef came from wasn’t given antibiotics or any other added hormones.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Plant-based proteins are very popular, especially among vegetarians and vegans. Yet, these proteins may cause more issues than be beneficial. Plant-based proteins are generally sourced from soy, hemp, grains, and legumes.
Soy is a very common source of plant-based proteins. It’s made from processed soybeans and almost every soybean in the U.S. is genetically modified. GMOs are linked to rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and infertility.5 Soybeans are also legumes, which are inflammatory foods for a lot of people.
Pea protein is also derived from legumes and is another popular choice for vegetarians and vegans. Plant proteins are digested more slowly than animal proteins, due in part to their high fiber content. This can limit the number of amino acids that are bioavailable to make protein.
Gluten is the source of protein found in most grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. It’s no coincidence the gluten we consume today aligns with a dramatic increase in chronic disease.6
When you eat gluten, it travels to your small intestine where it triggers the release of zonulin. Zonulin is a chemical that signals the tight junctions of your intestinal wall to open up, creating intestinal permeability—otherwise known as leaky gut.
Once your gut becomes leaky, larger proteins (such as gluten), as well as toxins, microbes, and partially digested food particles, are able to escape through your intestinal wall. Your immune system reacts to fight off these “invaders.” This leads to a chronic inflammatory state as your gut remains leaky and the invaders keep on coming. Gluten and dairy are two of the most inflammatory foods available. Let’s talk about the problem with dairy proteins, especially whey and casein.
Whey and Casein Proteins
Cow’s milk, while technically is an animal-based protein, contains the proteins casein and whey. Whey protein is often separated from casein in milk. One of the biggest cons of whey protein is that it contains lactose, a sugar found in milk that many people have trouble digesting. Lactose and casein are both found in whey protein, which is why I recommend everyone avoid whey protein powders.
While some people are sensitive to both casein and whey, casein protein is much more difficult to digest. The real issue with casein comes from the molecular mimicry to gluten. If you’re sensitive to gluten, you are likely sensitive to casein.
The Clear Winner is Animal-Based Protein
In terms of plant protein vs. animal protein, animal protein is the clear winner. Protein from legumes, nuts, and seeds generally does not contain all nine essential amino acids. Plus, they can all be difficult to digest and some are highly inflammatory. Inflammation can lead to gut imbalances such as leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, and eventually to autoimmune diseases.
Protein is an important part of your diet. I was a vegetarian for more than 20 years. I ultimately discovered that this diet played a big role in why I developed an autoimmune condition. Since then, I have done extensive research and made a big shift in my own diet. Now I recommend that everyone get their protein from animal-based protein sources. So, how do you know how much protein you need?
What are Optimal Amounts of Animal-Based Protein?
How much protein you need isn’t really a one-size-fits-all approach. A variety of factors should be considered when you are determining how much animal-based protein you need, including your lifestyle and activity level. If you are more active, then you need to consume more protein.
There are two ways to figure out how much protein you need. One method starts with how many calories you need each day. I understand that it may seem a little complicated, however, it is pretty simple. Grab your calculator!
Determine Your Calorie Needs
To determine your daily calorie needs, you need to figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of energy your body needs when resting.
- For an adult male: 66+(6.3 x body weight) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x range in years) = BMR
- For an adult female: 66+(4.3 x body weight) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x range in years) = BMR
Once you have your BMR, you can calculate your daily calorie intake to maintain a healthy weight. To determine total calorie needs, multiply your BMR by your activity level.
- Sedentary (little to no exercise): BMR x 1.2
- Light activity (1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
- Moderate activity (3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
- Very active (6-7 days/week): BMR x 1.725
Finding out your calorie needs will help you determine how many of those calories need to come from animal-based protein.
Another way to determine how much protein you should be consuming every day to maintain muscle strength and optimal weight is to multiply your body weight by 0.35 (pounds x 0.35). So, if you weigh 145 pounds, you should be eating about 50 grams of protein every day. This method to determine how much protein you need is only recommended if you live a sedentary lifestyle.
If you’re looking for a way to get more animal-based protein in your diet, I am about to tell you about my best solution to ensure you’re getting optimal amounts of animal-based protein without the cons of dairy- or plant-based proteins.
How to Boost Your Animal-Based Protein
Believe it or not, nearly 1/3 of adults over age 50 fail to meet their daily recommended allowance for protein intake. One convenient way to get more protein in your diet is by replacing a meal or snack with a smoothie containing an animal-based protein powder.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find dairy-free, animal-based protein. Plant-based protein does not provide you with the essential amino acids only found in animal protein, and dairy-based proteins are inflammatory.
I know how frustrating it can be trying to find a good animal-based protein powder. I went five years without using a protein powder because I couldn’t find one that met my dietary needs. Finally, I decided enough was enough and personally formulated The Myers Way® Paleo Protein!
The Myers Way® Paleo Protein is one of the few physician-formulated, complete animal-based protein powders on the market. This complete protein is sourced from the purest animal-based protein sources and contains all nine of the essential amino acids. The best part is that it comes in 9 delicious flavors.
The Myers Way® Paleo Protein powders are sourced from non-GMO, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef, and are richer, creamier, healthier, and more delicious than any other protein on the market. I personally enjoy a scoop in my morning smoothie or as part of a delicious high-protein dessert or snack, depending on which flavor I am craving.
As I’ve said over and over, animal-based protein is the clear winner when it comes to what is the best source of protein in your diet. The Myers Way® Paleo Protein contains 23 grams of animal-based protein in each scoop. Getting the right amount of protein every day from a complete protein is an important part of achieving optimal health.
- What Are Macronutrients? All You Need to Know. Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD. Healthline. 2021.
- Protein in Diet. Medline Plus. 2018.
- Amino acids in formation of collagen. Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD. Medical News. 2019.
- The difference between complete and incomplete proteins and how much you should be worrying about them in your diet. Ariana DiValentino . Insider. 2019.
- Human Health Effects of Genetically Engineered Crops. Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.<br>. 2016.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review . Anna Roszkowska. Medicina, vol 55. 2019.