These days, more and more people are choosing to include more plant-based protein in their diets. Some people are cutting out dairy-based protein, such as that found in milk, yogurt and whey, out of their diets altogether. To a certain extent, protein is protein, regardless of the source. On the other hand, there are many significant differences, some of which may be surprising.
Many people are under the out-dated impression that only protein from animal-based products can be complete, but that is incorrect. In fact, the protein in soy is contains all the essential amino acids, just like the protein found in dairy. In addition, consuming protein-rich soybeans can reduce bad cholesterol and protect overall health.
In 2014, scientists conducted a high-quality scientific study, comparing plant-based protein and dairy-based protein. Their goal was to study the effects of dairy-based protein and plant-based protein on kidney health over a long period of time (six months). They discovered that people who consumed protein made from soy had improvements in their kidney health, whereas the control group that continued consuming protein from dairy continued to have poor renal function.
Of course, soy is not the only source of plant-based protein. Other healthy sources include lentils, quinoa and nuts. Getting protein from those plants may prevent heart disease, type II diabetes and high blood pressure, among other health problems.
Protein source does not just affect type II diabetes. Consumption of dairy-based protein is also strongly correlated with type I diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or IDDM. This is the type that affects and often kills children. Studies have shown that countries that consume large amounts of milk often have much higher rates of type I diabetes.
Some believe thishas to do with a type of protein found in cow’s milk known as bovine serum albumin, as children with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus showed abnormal reactions to it in their bloodstreams.Plants do not contain bovine serum albumin.
Another type of protein found in dairy but not plants is casein. Casein makes up more than 80 percent of all dairy-based protein. Some people prefer plant-based protein because they feel casein is dangerous. Studies have shown casein causes prostate cancer cells to proliferate. A study conducted on overweight young people between the ages of twelve and fifteen showed that consumption of casein may be related to higher body mass indexes.
The scientists believe casein does this by releasing insulin, but the mechanism is not yet fully understood. For these reasons, many individuals are opting to use alternatives to dairy milk, such as almond or flax milk instead.
Both dairy-based proteins and plant-based proteins may cause allergic reactions. Many people are allergic to or intolerant of casein, a dairy-based protein. In fact, milk is one of the most common causes of allergic reactions. On the other hand, allergies to gluten and other plant-based proteinsare also common. Some people cannot consume nuts or legumes, two of the more popular sourcesof plant-based protein. People with allergies to dairy, nuts, soy, gluten and legumes can still get plant-based protein from plants such as teff, millet, buckwheat, hemp seeds and sunflower seeds.
Many people might wonder what food has the highest percentage of protein. That would be spirulina, a blue-green algae eaten by the ancient Aztecs and many others. It is made up of about sixty-two to sixty-eight percent protein. Like the protein found in soy and some dairy products, it is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. On the other hand, milk from holstein cows contains 2.97 percent true protein.
The amount of protein in milk depends upon the age of the milk and the breed of cow that produced it. Whole milk contains less protein than skim milk. The amount of protein in plant-based milks depends on the type of plant-based protein. Almond milk and rice milk usually have less protein than cow’s milk, though it depends on the recipe. Some plant-based milks made from peas may contain as much protein as cow’s milk.
In some cultures, people consume large amounts of dairy-based protein. In others, people consume no dairy at all. This is not surprising since seventy-five percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. In other words, seventy-five percent of all adults are physically unable to digest milk properly. Dairy was unknown in most non-European cultures until fairly recently.
Don’t Obsess Over Protein
While getting enough protein is certainly important, it’s important not to obsess over it. For most people in first-world countries, getting a protein deficiency is virtually impossible since even low-protein foods usually contain some protein. Protein deficiency is usually a symptom of starvation.
An obsession with consuming large amounts of protein, dairy-based, plant-based or otherwise, may be indicative of orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. When it comes to protein, and nutrition and health in general, balance is the key.