Are you a long-time vegetarian thinking about going vegan? Or perhaps someone who has happily included meat in your diet for many years, but you’re now ready to focus on a plant-based diet? Well, here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of animal proteins vs. plant proteins.
Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein
In terms of the pros, animal proteins such as beef, dairy, pork and lamb:
- are a complete protein
- contain heme iron
Plant proteins such as beans, lentils and soy are:
- low in calories
- low in sodium (assuming you’re going with low-sodium versions)
- high in fiber (help maintain gastrointestinal health)
- nutrient dense
Plant proteins also tend to take a shorter time to prepare, can be bought and stored in bulk, and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and other chronic diseases.
As for the cons, animal proteins are:
- higher in bad fat
- higher in calories
- full of hormones and antibiotics (unless they’re organic)
They also naturally contain sodium, can contribute to inflammation, increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and high cholesterol, and take longer to prepare.
A Vegan Diet for Good Health
Eating a vegan diet has two primary health benefits:
- Better control over the nutritional and additive content of your food
- Much lower consumption of saturated fat
It’s hard to know what by-products you may be eating when you’re having animal protein. Was the animal getting a constant flow of hormones and antibiotics? Was it given feed that’s unnatural to its diet?
High-fat animal products (beef, pork, lamb and dairy) have higher percentages of saturated fat, which can cause inflammation and contribute to higher LDL cholesterol levels and heart disease. These animals also have naturally occurring trans fats, which can contribute to a clogging of the arteries.
One challenge while eating a vegan diet is getting enough iron. Iron (heme) is attached to blood in humans and animals. The non-heme type of iron present in plants is not as readily absorbed during digestion. That said, vitamin C enhances the digestion of heme and non-heme irons. What that means is that when following a vegan diet, choose colorful fruits and vegetables (vitamin-C rich) to go with your plant proteins at mealtime.