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Meat vs. Plant Protein: Which is Better?

Meat vs. Plant Protein: Which is Better?
How much do you know about protein? Most people know that it is an important biomolecule -- a primary building block of bones, skin, hair, and various connective and muscle tissues, that it comes primarily from animal sources, and that whenever you meet a vegan, you are supposed to ask where they get their protein from.

That was all I knew too, until I finally took an on-line nutrition course earlier this year. One of the most interesting things I learned in the course was the difference between plant and animal proteins and their effects on our health. But lets start at the beginning.

What is protein?

Protein is an essential macro nutrient consisting of amino acids that participates in almost every process within cells. It produces enzymes (which control metabolism), hormones and other essential chemicals, participates in DNA replication, transports molecules from one location to another, builds and repairs tissues.

Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein. Therefore, when older proteins are broken down in the body, they must be replaced.

How much protein do we need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA*) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to 48 grams of protein per day for an average woman and 56 grams for an average man. And it is equivalent to about 8% to 10 % of total diet calories per day. Which means that, considering we receive required amount of calories, almost everyone, or at least 98% of people are easily meeting their protein requirement. To emphasize, we do not need an excess of protein.

What are the differences between various proteins?

Proteins differ from one another primarily in their sequence of amino acids, and some proteins are more efficiently utilized by the human body than others. Animal-based proteins, for the most part, consist of amino acid profiles very similar to ours, thus, allowing for a more efficient synthesis of these proteins. For this reason, animal-based proteins are said to have a higher biological value than plant-based proteins and to be of "higher quality".


The higher biologic value also means faster cell division and body growth rates, which has some undesirable consequences -- faster cancer growth rates. By contrast, plant proteins do not promote this unwanted growth.

For example, animal foods tend to elevate estrogen levels, which is linked to higher breast cancer rates in women. While plant-based foods tend to decrease estrogen levels, therefore, lowering the risk.

Coronary heart disease also have strong positive correlation with consumption of meat protein, meat fat, saturated fat, milk protein and cholesterol. Through groundbreaking research and his own medical practice Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn proved that heart disease can be prevented and reversed through consumption of whole grains, legumes and beans, red, yellow and green leafy vegetables and with complete elimination of all oils and animal-based foods.

One of the most controversial animal-based proteins, Casein, composes 87% of animal milk. Studies showed that casein fed at a higher than 8-10% of total calorie intake promotes cancer. Cows are generally 10 times bigger in size than humans and their calves can digest high amounts of casein, in fact they need it for growth. But for humans dairy digests very slowly, often becoming the sole reason for constipation and other health problems.

This made a lot of people question why do we even consume milk past infancy, particularly milk of animal origin? Considering the above, it doesn't seem so strange that about 65% percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Now think of how many foods you eat contain dairy - don't forget beloved cheese and pastries.

The whole food plant-based diet

As mentioned earlier, the required amount of protein is 8-10% of our daily calorie intake, which can be easily supplied with whole food plant-based diet. Moreover, scientists now know that plant foods contain all the essential amino acids for human body to thrive.

Research showed that the majority of leading causes of deaths in America, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, lower respiratory disease and Alzheimer's are related to nutrition. And plant-based nutrition has been shown to have strong positive effects on prevention and even reversal in all of them.

Here is how plant-based food nutrition compares to animal-based food nutrition:

As you can see every nutrient present in animal-based foods is much better supplied by plant-based foods and the protein content is almost the same. Notice that cholesterol is only contained in animal-based foods. Now imagine that in 2010 the amount spent on cholesterol medications in the U.S. was $18.7 billion and this number keeps on growing.

Plant Protein Chart:

Remember to include a variety of whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetable of all kinds into your diet to receive sufficient amount of calories, proteins and other nutrients. The combinations of different plant foods have a much more beneficial effect on our health, as they all nutritionally supportive of each other.

Have fun creating versatile plant-based dishes that make your eyes and belly happy. It is unlikely you will miss those extra pounds, feeling heavy and bloated after eating a meal, or worrying about your cholesterol level and chance of a heart attack.

Learn more about plant-based lifestyle from T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies

Making Heart Attacks History: Caldwell Esselstyn at TEDxCambridge 2011

Solving the Health Care Crisis: T. Colin Campbell at TEDxCortland

Vegan Diet Can't Meet Nutritional Needs? Dr T Colin Campbell

* Protein is made up of 16% nitrogen. The RDA was calculated by measuring the amount of nitrogen, as a representative of protein, we need to consume in order to replace the amount of nitrogen excreted and by adjusting that number to account for differences in the general population.


Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day? (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from

Campbell, T. C., & Campbell, T. M. (2017). The China study: The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

Esselstyn, C. B. (2008). Prevent and reverse heart disease: The revolutionary, scientifically proven, nutrition-based cure. New York: Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA).

Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition report of a joint WHO/FAO/UNU expert consultation. (2007). Geneva: World Health Organization.;jsessionid=2462343F77246FD6B34F8F3D23D21472?sequence=1

Lactose intolerance - Genetics Home Reference - NIH. (2018, September 18). Retrieved September 22, 2018, from

The Cost of High Cholesterol. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2018, from

Plant-Based Protein Information & Chart. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2018, from

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