A healthy diet should include a sufficient amount of protein , which can be of both plant and animal origin. Each type has different benefits and both can be part of a balanced diet. However, excessive consumption of animal protein can be harmful to health. But beware: the problem is not so much in the protein as in the meat that contains it. Furthermore, proteins of animal origin are considered to be of high biological value .
In populations like the United States, the effects of excessive consumption of meat to the detriment of fruits, vegetables and legumes are evident. The loss of the pattern of the Mediterranean diet in countries like Spain follows the same trend. Caridad Gimeno Uribes, professor of the Degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics at CEU Cardenal Herrera Herrera University , explains that foods of animal origin “present a greater amount of saturated fat and cholesterol that is harmful to cardiovascular health -except for oily fish- , contrary to vegetables, which are related to a cardioprotective effect due to their content of unsaturated fats, antioxidantsand fiber ”.
Biological value and protein concentration
The nutrition expert insists that you should not demonize any type of protein, but rather consume it in its proper measure. Proteins are macromolecules that are made up of amino acids . These amino acids can be non-essential (the body is capable of synthesizing them) or essential (the body is not capable of synthesizing them and, therefore, they can only be obtained through diet). “For this reason, the quality of the protein is given in function of the presence of essential amino acids and their capacity to be absorbed. This is also called biological value ”, says Gimeno.
The most significant difference between both classes of proteins is that those of animal origin have a high biological value, unlike most proteins of plant origin. This difference could be made up if they are combined with different foods ( protein supplementation ). “However, proteins of animal origin also contain vitamins of group B, A and K , being vitamin B12 the only one that cannot be obtained from vegetables.”
Another notable difference is the protein concentration , which is higher in proteins of animal origin compared to those of vegetable origin. “Nor should we forget that the environmental cost is much higher in the production of protein foods of animal origin than those of vegetable origin”, Gimeno clarifies.
Servings and recommended daily amount
Each individual must consider the portion they can consume, which in healthy people will vary depending on energy expenditure which, in turn, depends on age, sex, weight and height and the expenditure caused by factors such as physical activity or certain pathologies.
These would be the standard servings of foods rich in protein:
Legumes : 60-80 grams.
Meat or fish : 100-150 grams.
Eggs : 2 units.
Nuts : 30 grams.
The CEU professor indicates that a varied and balanced diet must combine both vegetable and animal protein and current guidelines “consider that proteins should provide 15% of daily energy , with 50-70% being of high biological value.”
The daily protein recommendations would be, approximately, the following:
Infants (0-1 years): 15 grams (1.6-2.2 g / Kg).
Preschoolers (1-6 years): 26 grams (1.2 g / Kg).
Schoolchildren (6-11 years): 26 grams (1g / Kg).
Adolescents (11-18 years): 45 grams (1g / Kg).
Adults (> 18 years): 55 grams.
Elderly : 54 grams (0.8 g / Kg).
Pregnant : 75 grams.
Endurance athletes : 95 grams (1.2-1.4 g / Kg).
Strength athletes : 115 grams (1.7-1.8 g / Kg).
How to avoid excess animal protein
According to Gimeno, the excessive consumption of proteins of animal origin in developed societies is mainly due to “the fact that, normally, the rations of meat and fish are larger than we should consume. The steaks that are usually marketed are larger than we need and, in addition, the number of weekly servings in the standard adult diet is also increasing ”.
Several observational studies offer clues about the possible consequences of this increase in the amount of animal protein in the diet. In them, the consumption of red meat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease , stroke or stroke and premature death. However, the nutritionist warns, “other subsequent research suggests that the problem stems from processed meat ” and, specifically, the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol present in it, which has led to link it “with cardiovascular disorders, obesity , kidney and liver disordersand calcium assimilation problems ”. Instead, these risks have not been related to the consumption of fish and other white meats, such as turkey and chicken.
These are some tips for a proper and balanced consumption:
Proteins of animal origin : reduce the weekly rations and adapt them to the quantities that are needed.
Proteins of vegetable origin : consume legumes and cereals together to achieve protein supplementation and, in this way, obtain higher quality proteins.
“The most important thing is to eat a healthy and balanced diet, combining foods from different groups and in turn varying those from a certain group. In this way, the obtaining of all the necessary nutrients to carry out the different functions of the organism is ensured ”, concludes Gimen.