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November 17, 2019
ARE ALL PROTEIN SOURCES EQUAL? | By Hubert Cormier
In recent years, proteins have become popular, especially among athletes. What are the best sources? Are they all equal? Here is some valuable information to help you choose.
Each source of protein has a distinct biological value. So, are all protein sources equal? No, they are not. More specifically, the tiny molecules involved in protein formation are called amino acids. There are twenty of them in total, and they are classified into two groups: essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
The latter are produced by the body itself, while those that are essential are not or are produced in quantities too small to meet the human body’s needs. Thus, essential amino acids must be consumed daily to ensure adequate intake. In addition, the quality of a protein is determined by its amino acid composition and digestibility. Digestibility is the measure of the amount of amino acids absorbed following ingestion of a protein.
🍗 ANIMAL PROTEINS 🧀
Animal proteins are complete proteins, as they contain all the amino acids that are essential for our bodies to function. These include proteins from red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk, kefir, skyr, cream, ice cream, etc.). Animal proteins also seem to be the proteins that are best assimilated by the body, and their digestibility rate varies between 90% and 99%.
🌰 PLANT PROTEINS 🥜
As for plant proteins, they belong to the category of incomplete proteins, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids. Thus, legumes are rich in certain essential amino acids, which are found in minute quantities in cereals and nuts! Since it is necessary to consume all essential amino acids every day to ensure the body’s proper functioning, it is important to combine different sources of protein. For example, it would be as simple as combining legumes and nuts in a salad or adding quinoa to chickpeas in a vegetarian burrito. Nevertheless, contrary to what is still often conveyed, it is not mandatory to consume the different amino acids in a single meal but rather throughout the same day.
In addition to not containing all the essential amino acids, plant proteins are also absorbed less effectively by the body compared to animal proteins; their digestibility rate varies between 70% and 90%. However, there are some exceptions. Indeed, soybeans (found in tofu, edamame and tempeh), quinoa, buckwheat and oats are considered to be complete plant proteins, as they contain all the essential amino acids and have a digestibility rate similar to that of animal proteins—around 90%.
In conclusion, it is wrong to say that all proteins are equal. However, it is not necessary to focus on a single protein to meet the body’s needs. The key is to have a balanced and varied diet and to better distribute the multiple sources of protein among all of the day’s meals and snacks, rather than eating the majority of your protein at dinner, like many North Americans do.
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