Proteins are like building blocks for our body, and they're made up of smaller units called amino acids. We use about 20 different amino acids to keep our body in good shape. Some of these amino acids, nine to be exact, are essential, which means we need to get them from the food we eat because our body can't make them on its own.
Now, when it comes to getting protein, we have two main sources: plants and animals.
Animal proteins are pretty cool because they contain all the essential amino acids. However, they have some downsides. They often lack fiber, which is essential for a healthy digestive system. Also, they can promote inflammation in our bodies, which increases the risk of heart disease. They mess with our hormones, which can up the risk of cancer. And to top it off, they usually come with a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol, even if it's lean meat.
On the other hand, most plant proteins are incomplete, meaning they don't have all nine essential amino acids. But don't worry, you can easily make them complete by mixing different plant foods like whole grains, legumes (like beans and lentils), nuts, and seeds in your meals. As long as you eat a variety of plant foods, you're good to go. In fact, research shows that the overall protein from a mix of plant foods is pretty similar to what you'd get from animal sources.
Now, some folks worry that plant foods have things like phytates, lectins, and oxalates that can mess with the absorption of important nutrients. But in reality, these substances only cause problems if you're eating a ton of starchy foods and not much else. If you're enjoying a diverse diet, these so-called anti-nutrients aren't a big deal. Plus, they often have antioxidant properties that are good for your health. Plant proteins may take a bit longer to digest, but they come with the bonus of fiber and phytonutrients that are fantastic for your overall well-being. High-fiber diets are linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
And here's the exciting part: Research suggests that people who follow a plant-based diet are less likely to get serious illnesses like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. There's even a study with lab rats that found tumors grew less when they ate more plant protein and fewer animal products.
So, when it comes to protein, think about the whole package. It's not just about the quantity but also what other benefits it brings along. Choosing more plant-based sources and balancing things out can be a smart move for your health.