For a long time, it was widely accepted that animal foods provided the best source of protein. However, times are changing. With the recent vegetarian and vegan movements, more and more people are turning to plant-based sources of protein. The movement has also sparked a heated debate about which is better, animal or plant protein.
According to the Vancouver Humane Society, 33 per cent of Canadians are eating less meat or are vegetarian. This demonstrates just how prevalent the trend is, and how nutritionists need to be aware of the debate and the pros and cons of each protein source.
If you’re considering a career in health and nutrition, read on to learn more about the animal protein debate.
Grads with a Diploma in Nutrition Might Know Red Meat Can Be Dangerous
In the debate of whether animal or plant protein is better, a common topic of conversation is the healthiness of red meat. In fact, a variety of studies have shown that red meat is linked to health complications. The Harvard School of Public Health showed that individuals who eat red meat and processed red meat on a regular basis have an elevated risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease. In addition, the Nurse’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study showed that individuals had a ten to 16 per cent higher risk of dying of cancer for each additional serving of red meat or processed red meat they consumed per day.
While these results are staggering, after earning your diploma in nutrition, it’s important to read and assess research from a variety of unbiased sources in order to gain a true understanding of the effects of red meat and other foods on the body.
A Look at Complete and Incomplete Sources of Protein
Protein is made up of amino acids, and the body needs two types of amino acids for health: essential and nonessential. Bodies can produce nonessential amino acids, like alanine, glutamic acid, aspartic acid and asparagine, on their own. Essential amino acids, like lycine, leucine, methionine, and phenylalanine, on the other hand, need to be consumed. Foods that have all the amino acids the body needs are called complete sources of protein, while ones that don’t are incomplete sources of protein.
While some studies have reported that red meat is bad for overall health, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all meat products are bad. As graduates of nutrition and health programs know, meats are complete sources of protein, meaning that the body can get all the amino acids it needs by eating meat products. Plants are incomplete sources of protein. Therefore, if you have clients who want to follow a plant-based diet, you need to ensure they are eating a wide variety of vegetables in order to get all the amino acids they need to fuel their body.
The Health Benefits of Plant and Animal Protein for Students Earning a Diploma in Nutrition
Each source of protein comes with its own benefits. Meat proteins like eggs and chicken are rich in important nutrients like vitamin D, zinc, iron and DHA. In fact, chicken, fish, and other animal foods are the only foods that naturally supply the important vitamin B12. Therefore, some clients following a plant-based diet may need to take a multivitamin to ensure that they are getting proper nutrients.
Plant-based protein sources, like beans or quinoa, are generally lower in calories and fats than meats, which can aid in weight loss. In addition, some studies have revealed that vegetarians have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
It’s difficult to definitively say which protein source is healthier. As a nutrition professional, it’s up to you to guide your clients towards making healthy choices in a way that works for them. Being aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each protein source and keeping on top of the latest research will help you make the most informed recommendations to your clients.
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