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Wellness Wednesday: Animal Proteins vs Plant Proteins

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Protein is an important aspect of your diet, especially if you're trying to build or tone muscle. Protein contains the building blocks for muscle growth and is important to eat throughout the day as well as following a workout. Whether you're used to making a protein shake in your fitness blender after the gym or devouring a hearty dinner, it turns out not all protein is created the same. 

Protein can come from animal - meat, fish, eggs and dairy - and plant sources, from soy, legumes, beans and seeds. These two types of protein both have benefits, but there are key differences between them. Here are some important thinks to keep in mind about these two groups of protein to ensure that you're getting the right nutrients. 

Animal protein is complete 
One of the key differences between plant proteins and animal proteins is that animal proteins are complete, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins such as meat and fish contain certain essential amino acids that humans cannot create themselves and need to function. Amino acids are organic compounds that are integral to the function of cells and tissue growth throughout the human body. 

On the other hand, plant proteins are incomplete and don't have all essential amino acids. But plant protein does carry a variety of other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber, which can be helpful for a healthy diet.

The Harvard University School of Public Health recommended that vegans and vegetarians be aware that the body needs a variety of proteins in order to function properly. If you're not going to consume animal-based proteins, ensure that you eat a wide variety of plant proteins.

Plant protein typically has less fat and cholesterol 
Animal protein is more complete than plant proteins, but it also typically carries more cholesterol and fat. Diets that feature excessive amounts of red meat and other animal proteins have been shown to lead to health problems, such as high cholesterol and obesity. Plant proteins usually have no cholesterol or fat and can offer protein without these negative health effects. Some of the best sources of plant protein are soy products and seeds such as quinoa and chia. 

Fish proteins are among the healthiest animal proteins because they have omega-3 fatty acids and lower cholesterol than many land animals. 

Balance is key 
Like many aspects of a healthy diet, it's important to get a variety of proteins. A diet rich in a different proteins can be best, featuring more complete plant proteins like soy and low-fat animal proteins such as fish, because it limits the amount of fat and cholesterol while still providing the essential amino acids and plant nutrients.