plant-based proteins are a good alternative to animal based ones. but what is the difference between them all?
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  • The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight.
  • Animal sources rich in protein often contain saturated fats and higher levels of cholesterol than sources of plant based protein.
  • Only plant based foods contain dietary fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system balanced.
  • There are many types of plant-based proteins but the most popular ones include pea protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein, and oat protein.
  • A combination of those proteins is recommended as each plant based protein lacks specific amino acids. A combination will provide all the essential ones to the body.
  • Pea protein is a good option due its quality and availability/digestibility.

As we all know protein is an important key factor for our growth and development.

Nutrition plays a vital role in the overall health of the individual. Proteins can be obtained from animal or plant based sources. 

Many different sources of plant based proteins can be found on the market, but are they all the same or are there differences? 

Why Are Proteins Important?

Proteins are an essential component of our diet as they are found in our bones, skin, muscles and most the tissues in our body.

They make up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions in our systems and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood.

The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. 

However, for optimal growth and functioning of the body, you might require more than the basic minimum requirements specially if you are an athlete, if you are training to increase your muscle mass or if you are involved in activities that require rigorous physical activities. 

Animal – Based Proteins vs. Plant- Based Proteins

There are (2) two main sources of protein:

1) Animal-Based 

2) Plant-Based.

Animal based protein sources contain saturated fats and higher levels of cholesterol than plant based sources.

An individual may wish to avoid consuming excessive amount of saturated fats to stay healthy. 

Fiber is another important factor. Only plant-based food items contain fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system balanced.

Eating more plant protein may also improve a person’s overall health. 

Plant-based proteins, as the name indicates, are obtained from plants.

Examples of rich sources of such proteins include tofu, lentils, pulses, seeds, grains, and peas.

Although they are not as much proteinaceous as the animal sources, they provide all essential amino acids necessary for body growth when consumed in combination or in higher quantities.

That is why it is possible for vegans to not face any kind of protein deficiencies despite the absence of animal based food items in their diet.

There are many types of plant-based proteins but the most important ones include pea protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein, and oat protein.

4 Important Plant-Based Protein Types

1- Pea Protein

This type of protein usually contains all of the 9 essential amino acids.

However, methionine is present in very low concentrations.

It is basically non-allergic and it also prevents cardiovascular diseases, and reduces blood pressure by decreasing cholesterol.

It also helps in increasing muscle mass, in weight loss and with appetite suppression. 

Although some mentioned disadvantages are:

metallic taste, gritty texture and sometimes, exhibits anti-nutritional effects like decreased digestion of proteins, lower uptake of glucose from the gut, etc.

2- Hemp Protein

It is a type of protein containing low amounts of the amino acid Lysine.

Lysine is an essential amino acid that is important for the normal growth and for muscle turnover and is used to form creatinine. 

Branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are also low in hemp protein when compared to other plant based proteins.

It is also less allergenic and healthier for the heart as it lowers cholesterol levels, and reduces plaque formation risks.

hemp protein is known as a good appetite suppressant, thus, helping in weight loss, preventing cancer and generally is good for diabetics.

However, its disadvantages includes:

Earthy flavor, poor digestibility, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation due to high amount of fibers and high in anti-nutrients.

3- Brown Rice Protein

Lysine is also present in very low amount in this type of protein.

It is also hypoallergenic, promotes muscle growth, lactose-free, easily digestible, lowers cholesterol and helps in weight loss.

However disadvantages also include:

Disturbance in the digestive system leading to diarrhea, vomiting and blotting among others.

It contains higher levels of arsenic as well which may lead to cancer, heart disorders, diabetes, and impaired cognitive functions.

4- Oat Protein

Lysine and threonine are present in relatively lower quantities on this type of protein.

It is rich in anti-oxidants, reduces blood glucose and cholesterol, as well as supports muscle growth.

On the contrary, this may be an allergen and can worsen existing celiac disease as well as cause digestive disturbances like gas, bloating, etc.

How Do We Benefit from Plant-Based Proteins?

Different plant-based proteins have different impacts on the body based upon their amino acids composition.

Therefore, selection of such proteins must be done according to the particular purpose you want.

For instance, if you need to increase your muscle mass, pea or brown rice protein should be preferred over the hemp protein, because of the presence of branched-chain amino acids which promote protein synthesis and muscle growth.

It is also proven in a research study, that pea protein supplementation increases muscle thickness especially in weight lifting or resistance training. 

Hemp protein, on the other hand, is the best choice to treat cancers because of its anti-oxidants content.

Protein Sources & Alternatives for Common Digestive Problems

Similarly, if you are lactose-intolerant, and cannot take dairy products like milk and its subsidiaries, brown rice protein will be the best choice because it is lactose-free, and also contains all those amino acids which are present in milk. 

However, it is still a bit lacking in lysine

Cow Milk Protein Allergy in Infants

So, it is a good alternative of milk. A research study suggests that extensively hydrolyzed rice protein formula is a good option to treat cow’s milk protein allergy in infants, due to better tolerance and efficacy.

Celiac Disease

Some people have celiac disease means diet containing gluten damages their digestive system.

In such scenarios, it is wise to refrain from oat protein because it contains gluten like substances which can cause symptoms of celiac disease.

It is also proven by a study, that villous atrophy and inflammation can occur in those celiac disease patients who are strictly following gluten-free diet but are taking oats.

What Protein Type is Most Recommended?

Although each plant-based protein is beneficial somehow, they are not all equally available to the body.

Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) is a good way to evaluate the quality, digestibility, or availability of proteins.

PDCAAS value for pea protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein, and oat protein is approximately 0.9, 0.61, 0.47, and 0.46, respectively.

These figures suggest that pea protein is the best in terms of quality and availability/digestibility.

How Much Protein Do You Need?      

The daily optimal body requirement of proteins is generally 0.8g/kg of weight.

This adds up to around 56 grams of protein daily for an average sedentary adult man.

As far as the intake of plant-based proteins is concerned, a combination of different types is recommended as each the most commonly used plant based proteins lack sufficient amounts of at least one amino acid. 

Therefore, a combination will provide all essential nutrients to the body.

However, the exact proportion depends upon the purpose of intake. This could vary from muscle building purposes to  replacing dairy products due to lactose intolerance. 

An important point to remember is that if you suffer from celiac disease, you should avoid oat proteins.

Keep Yourself Well Nourished

To conclude, plant based proteins have great health benefits. 

One should consume them in combination with different food sources readily available in one’s country.

Make sure to consume plant based proteins in the right proportions to get the maximum desirable results.