Protein gained from animal products is burned off more easily than plant-based substitutes, according to new research.
Dietary protein is needed to supply essential amino acids to help cells function and maintain good health - with U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) stipulating "ounce equivalents" to check to ensure you're getting enough.
In terms of protein, one ounce of meat is equivalent to one cooked egg, a quarter of a cup of red kidney beans, one tablespoon of peanut butter, two ounces of tofu, and half an ounce of mixed nuts.
However, researchers from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences have found that not all proteins are created equal - and that animal proteins may be more effective than others, as they are burned off more quickly into muscle. Thus, they can more readily provide the daily requirement of essential amino acids than plant protein.
"Our research illustrates that animal-based protein foods, such as beef, eggs and pork, and plant-based protein foods, such as kidney beans, peanut butter, tofu and mixed nuts, cannot be considered to be equivalent, or a substitute for each other, when developing healthy dietary patterns, given their unique physiological effects," said lead researcher Dr. Robert Wolfe, Director, Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity, and Professor of Geriatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Investigators found that animal-based protein food sources elicited greater anabolic responses than plant-based protein food sources, and that body protein balance increased more in research groups eating beef, pork, and eggs groups than those just consuming plant-based protein food sources.
Protein synthesis increased more in the beef group than in the groups consuming plant protein foods, while the egg and pork groups suppressed protein breakdown more compared with mixed nuts.
"While it's well-established that animal proteins can more readily provide essential amino acids than plant protein foods, our study also indicates that eating animal protein foods such as beef, pork and eggs may lead to increased protein synthesis, which has been shown to have benefits such as improved satiety and lean muscle mass maintenance," Dr. Wolfe added.
There are other health risks associated with eating too much meat - such as increased incidence of cancer in those who are regular consumers of processed meat products - but the research suggests that getting your body's daily protein fix from meat in a limited way may be a healthy option.