Those in support of animal foods argue that plant protein is incomplete in itself, and therefore has to be substituted by animal protein in your diet. However, those in support of vegan diet seem to be least impressed - as they continue to refute this argument as 'half truth'. Amidst all this chaos, the layman is left utterly confused with no idea whatsoever as to which of these two protein options is better for him. In such circumstances some information on the difference between plant protein and animal protein can be of a great help, and that's exactly what we have for you in this write-up.
Proteins: An Overview
Basically, proteins provide our body with various amino acids - including the essential amino acids, which the body cannot biosynthesize by itself. In fact, such is the importance of proteins in our diet that the term 'balanced nutrition' is just a myth without their inclusion. Proteins can be derived from a range of plant and animal products. As their names suggest, 'plant proteins' are proteins which are derived from various plant products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, etc., and 'animal proteins' are derived from various animal products such as meat, fish, dairy and poultry. Though both contain amino acids, the ratio of essential amino acids in them differs - and that very fact forms the basis of the difference between these two.
Plant Protein Vs. Animal Protein
Plant foods which have decent amount of proteins in them include legumes, grains as well as certain fruits and vegetables. The belief that plant protein is incomplete protein can be attributed to the fact that no single fruit or vegetable can provide our body with all the nine essential amino acids that it requires. Soy does come close with eight of the nine essential amino acids in it, but again it falls just short of animal foods - such as meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, which are called complete protein foods as they contain all these nine amino acids. That does give it an edge over its plant counterpart. If plant protein is called low quality proteins and animal protein high quality protein today, it is because of this very difference in their essential amino acid content.
Does that Mean Animal Protein is Better than Plant Protein?
Not if you take into consideration the fact that plant protein sources are also rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidant - all of which are important for our health. More importantly, animal protein is notorious for its high cholesterol and fat content, which can cause a range of health problems including high blood pressure and obesity. Taking these health risks into consideration, it is always better to keep a check on the amount of animal foods that you eat. Plant foods, on the other hand, are pretty low in terms of cholesterol or fat, which, in turn, makes them a better bet when it comes to your overall health. At the same time, the proteins that is derived from animal foods is known to form bi-products which are high in phosphorus content upon digestion, and thus have the tendency to come heavy on your liver. Similarly, excess protein intake is also known to produce more nitrogen than what is required by the body requires - and that again puts animal protein under scanner.
The use of terms complete protein for animal protein and incomplete protein for plant protein does make it sort of confusing, as people have a tough time trying to figure out whether vegan diet provides all the essential nutrients that are required by the body or not. There is no questioning the fact that the former provides all the essential amino acids required by the body, but one cannot turn a blind eye to its cholesterol and fat content which can turn out to be harmful for the body in a long term. On the other hand, even though no single plant food provide all the essential amino acids, they do provide various other nutrients - and that too without subjecting your body to harmful cholesterol and fat.
At the end of the day, the ideal way out is to opt for a balanced diet with right amount of plant and animal foods in it. If you don't have any option but to opt for a vegan diet, you can always resort to protein combining to deal with deficiency of essential amino acids in plant proteins. Basically, protein combining stresses on the practice of eating a combination of vegetarian protein foods in such a manner that the deficiency factor doesn't really affect the overall nutrition balance. One example of protein combining is eating beans and rice in the same meal, wherein the deficiency of lysine (an essential amino acid) in beans is complimented by the excess of same in rice.