Protein is found in both animals and plants. Our body can make some of the protein it needs, but not all. Therefore, certain amino acids are deemed essential because we must consume them in the foods we eat. It is true that animal proteins contain higher proportions of these essential amino acids, but it is important to note that having a higher proportion of protein is actually quite damaging, not advantageous, to your health.
Animal Protein Lacks Fiber
Plant protein comes packaged with fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Animal protein comes with exactly none of these. That means that meat, fish, eggs, poultry, and dairy have no fiber whatsoever.
A high fiber diet is associated with decreased cancer risk, specifically colon and breast cancer, as well as other conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, constipation, diverticulitis, and can even decrease the risk of stroke, high cholesterol, and heart disease. No animal food can do that. In fact, animal foods promote those very diseases.
Animal Protein Promotes Production of IGF-1
When we eat proteins that have a higher proportion of the essential amino acids, as animal proteins do, it results in higher levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 encourages, stimulates, and amplifies cell division and growth in both healthy cells and cancer cells. Consuming animal proteins is like pouring lighter fluid on a flame. It encourages rapid growth of cancer cells which is exactly why high circulating levels of IGF-1 is consistently associated with an increased cancer risk. It is literally speeding up cancer growth.
TMAO is a substance that injures the lining of our vessels, causes inflammation, and promotes the formation of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels which make them less heathy and can lead to heart attack, stroke, and death.
When we eat animal protein, its carnitine interacts with our gut bacteria to form something called trimethylamine which then gets metabolized by the liver into trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Consuming animal proteins result in higher levels of circulating TMAO.
Studies have shown that those who eat an exclusively plant-based diet appear to form little to no TMAO.
Choline is another source of TMAO. Here is where it gets tricky. We do not have any dietary need for carnitine, but we do require dietary choline. So how can we get the choline we need while staying protected from TMAO? The protection received from eating a plant-based diet. It seems the plants protect our guts like a coat of armor, so consuming choline will not lead to the formation of TMAO. Even though we eat choline in plants, the protection is in place, relieving the concern of TMAO in plant-based diets.
Animal protein contains high levels of phosphorus. When we consume too much phosphorus, our body tries to normalize the levels with a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23). FGF23 is harmful to our blood vessels, can lead to abnormal enlargement of our cardiac muscle, is associated with heart attacks and even death. So, too much phosphorus results in increased levels of FGF23 which is highly problematic to our cardiovascular health.
Another big question that plant-based eaters get, besides “Where do you get your protein?” is “Where do you get your iron?” There are 2 forms of iron. Heme iron (animal based) and non-heme iron (plants). The iron in animal foods is highly absorbable. But that may not be such a good thing. Excess iron is a huge problem, more of a problem that anemia (too little iron).
One of the problems with heme iron is that it can produce free radicals. Free radicals damage cell structures such as proteins, membranes, and DNA. Heme iron can also cause the formation of N-nitroso compounds within our body, which are potent carcinogens. So, it isn’t surprising that high intake of heme iron is associated with many kinds of cancers as well as many other diseases.
While we definitely need iron, the absorption rate from a plant based diet is more than adequate and we can avoid the problems associated with heme iron.
Animal proteins have a higher concentration of sulfur-containing amino acids and this will induce a subtle state of acidosis. To compensate for this highly acidic state within the body, the body will draw calcium from the bones, which has a damaging effect on bone health. Eating cheese and drinking milk, which we have been told will build strong bones, has quite the opposite effect. It damages bone health leading to osteoporosis. Milk, does not do a body good.
Though the egg industry will tell you that the egg is the perfect protein, that can’t be farther from the truth. Of course the egg industry will fund studies showing that eggs are in fact a healthy part of a balanced diet. It is in their best interest that we keep buying and consuming eggs. However, eggs are a huge source of dietary cholesterol. We do not need to consume any cholesterol at all. Our body makes and regulates exactly what it needs. Most animal foods, including “lean” meats, contain copious amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. Currently the number 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States is heart disease, and diets high in saturated fats and dietary cholesterol directly promotes heart disease.
All the nutrition you need, all of the macro and micro nutrients the body requires without damaging and deadly effects can be found in plant foods. Plant foods are life-promoting. The only 2 things you cannot get from plants are Vitamin D which comes from safe sun exposure and Vitamin B12 which comes from healthy soil. Since you aren’t likely to eat a spoonful of organic dirt, it is wise to look into a safe B12 supplement and get plenty of sunshine daily.