Various meats, as well as eggs and dairy, are listed as “complete” proteins, and good sources of various essential amino acids. Again, these amino acids are “essential” because we cannot make them on our own, so it is “essential” that we consume them through diet. This is often very hard (but not impossible) for vegans because they do not eat many of the foods on this list.
There’s a lot of disagreement out there whether animal or plant-based proteins are better for you. On one side, there is the argument that humans are better able to digest animal proteins because they are closer to our biological makeup, and they contain ALL the amino acids we need to live. On the other side, many say that plant-based proteins are easier to digest, healthier for you, and animal-based proteins are not necessary.
Again, as I said in the introduction of this book, to say that one way is best for all people is entirely erroneous. Humans are too unique to lump them all into one diet. So, I’m not going to choose a side here. My opinion is that both sides are correct, and both sides have issues. That’s why it is crucial to take into consideration each person’s unique make-up, genetic history, current health situation, location, and even shopping habits.
So, let’s go over it all. First I’d like to talk about the downfalls to both.
One big downfall to consuming only plant-based protein is its incompleteness, BUT…. if you are diligent and calculated with your choices, you can certainly get around that by including complete plant proteins like quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, chia seeds, and spirulina. The other difficulty with only consuming plant proteins is that some of these (like quinoa and buckwheat) are more carb-heavy than meat, so they don’t work well with a ketogenic diet and can sometimes pose problems for people with specific metabolic issues.
Also, some people who have (or are at risk for) certain autoimmune diseases, often have a difficult time with quinoa and buckwheat (as well as other grains and pseudo-grains). Another issue is that lectins (plant proteins) in these grains can cause inflammation and even damage to the gut lining (among other things) in people with autoimmune issues. Also, most grains contain a lectin similar in structure to gluten, so the body can experience what’s called cross-reactivity. This means it reacts to the non-gluten grain as if it really was gluten simply because it resembles gluten. So, plant proteins that come from grains are definitely not for everyone.
Other things to consider are tastebuds and needs. Take me, for example. I have attention deficit issues and, in the past, have struggled a lot with anxiety and depression. Because of these two things, I need a lot of the amino acid tyrosine. I can get this from eating cauliflower, broccoli, avocados, and beets (which I absolutely love), but even if I ate huge portions of these every single day, it would still not meet my unique, personal needs. So a vegan diet would not work for me. I could also eat more dairy and eggs to get more tyrosine, but I do not feel very good eating those. So a vegetarian diet wouldn’t work for me either.
I personally feel best eating high amounts of protein (sometimes from chicken but mostly from fatty fish like salmon). This is in addition to my high-tyrosine veggies, of course. That’s my “sweet spot,” where my temple operates at its best – even though many of my close friends swear by the vegan diet. Again, it’s all about finding what works for you.
Lastly, it is important to consider location. Some people simply do not have access to organic or non-GMO options at their local grocery store. So, in that case, it is definitely NOT better to eat plant proteins if they are genetically modified, especially when it comes to soy. In fact, there are many other downfalls to soy, too, which I will cover later in this book.
Animal proteins do have a better absorption rate and availability to the body, and they do contain many of the complete proteins. However, there can be downfalls to this, also. First, animal protein is often higher in sulfur-containing amino acids. This means that it can increase the acidity of the body, and possibly lead to calcium depletion when the body tries to balance out its pH level.
The other downfall to animal protein is how the animals are raised. Not all meat is the same. Organic, cage-free, free-range chicken is the only kind of chicken I recommend buying. Commercial non-organic chicken can be full of harmful bacteria. The chickens are also sometimes given hormones and antibiotics that can negatively affect the humans who consume the meat. This can contribute to gut issues, antibiotic resistance, and hormone imbalances, among other things. Animal studies even suggest that commercial chicken meat may be a cause of the development of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). (6)
The same is often true when choosing beef. I only recommend eating organic, grass-fed beef. Non-organic animals that are not fed grass are fed grains. These can make their intestinal tracts much more acidic, which can promote the growth of harmful bacteria like E. coli. Cows that are not labeled organic are typically given antibiotics to prevent disease. In fact, 80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. goes to livestock. (7) These animals are also often given hormones like estrogen to increase their weight (yielding more meat).
That being said, organic, grass-fed beef is one of the best proteins around, in my opinion. It is higher in omega 3s, vitamin E, antioxidants, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is believed to prevent cancer. (8) And according to an October 1999 article in the “Journal of Dairy Science,” the CLA content in grass-fed cows is five times higher than that of grain-fed cows.
So, as you can see, both plant and animal proteins have their pros and cons. Neither one is “bad,” but there are “bad versions” of both that are available at the supermarket. It’s important to know the difference and choose the better option for you personally.
It’s also important to remember that your choice may not be everyone else’s choice. Some people simply don’t like the taste of meat or don’t like how animals are treated, so they choose to get their protein from plant sources. Some people can’t do grains because of autoimmune issues, or some live in areas where non-GMO options just aren’t available, so they have to rely on animal sources. Each unique person has a unique situation, lifestyle, taste preference, and belief system. Therefore, it’s enormously unfair to assume there is only one “right” way to get protein. Please try to remember that. I see too many people “preaching protein” in all the wrong ways.
Other “Bad” Proteins
As I mentioned, genetically modified plant proteins, non-organic beef and poultry, and farm-raised seafood are on my list of bad proteins—not because the amino acids themselves are bad, but because there are other factors regarding the meat that far outweigh the benefits, in my opinion.
There is another type of protein that is also on my “bad” list—meat substitutes like Quorn, produced in the UK. Quorn is what’s known as mycoprotein. It is formed by fermenting and processing a fungus called Fusarium venenatum found in soil. The problem is Fusarium venenatum is mold! Quorn is also processed. It’s mixed in large vats with glucose, fixed nitrogen, synthetic vitamins, and minerals and then it’s heat-treated at high temperatures.
Even though it is often touted as a plant-based, vegetarian protein, it is a long way from what I consider to be healthy food. Aside from being unsafe for people with mold allergies or mold sensitivities, it can also be harmful to gut health. Because of gut imbalances, many people do not have enough good bacteria in the gut to combat this fungus. This can then result in a fungal overgrowth because fungi are often more vicious and destructive than bacterial cultures.