Plant proteins and other non-meat protein sources (for the sake of this article, we will lump it all into non-meat vs meat) have been gaining popularity in recent years as more and more people trend towards an organic, whole foods diet, or at the very least are becoming far more selective in their food choices. Non-meat proteins are generally ‘cleaner’ and yield a host of doctor- and mom-approved health benefits, like lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease compared to their meat counterparts as they do not contain flavor enhancers, antibiotics and a whole slew of other synthetic ingredients. And as a part of the broader conversation, non-meat proteins also tend to be far more sustainable for the environment as raising and feeding animals wreck havock on the environment – all the feed, water, and waste produced by i.e. cattle or pigs, has a large carbon footprint, or hoof. Cleaner body, cleaner environment and cleaner Sapien = #morelife for all.
What is Protein?
Before we dive into non-meat plant protein levels, let’s first establish a baseline – what is protein? Made up of various combinations of small organic chemicals called amino acids, protein is one of three macronutrients in the body, along with carbohydrates and fats, which are all needed to sustain life (provided energy or calories). Amino acids are the building blocks to manufacturing proteins, of which some are made by our body, while others must be obtained from our diets; these are the ‘essential’ amino acids – arginine, histadine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Foods such as meat, fish and poultry are considered complete sources because they contain all the essential amino acids, while non-meat sources, such as vegetables, may be deficient in one or more.
With the amino acid profile different in each food, eating a varied diet of non-meat sources can yield the same benefits as animal protein. All that being said, below is a table of plant protein food sources as provided by Today’s Dietitian, the trade publication for registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals: