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The #1 Lowest Quality Protein You Can Eat, New Research Suggests

Not all protein is created equal.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

Anyone who knows how important protein can be for the body surely wants to include food in their diet that will provide them with a sufficient amount of that particular nutrient. That's why you may be interested to find out that new research suggests there's one source of protein that might not be the best option.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers cooked up their own version of faux chicken that was made with soybean concentrate as well as wheat gluten and had a 24% protein content. After putting the plant-based "meat clumps" to the test using in vitro methods, those behind the study found that human cells didn't absorb protein from the plant-based chicken as well as they did from regular chicken.

"Proteins are subjected to digestion before being absorbed by human intestinal epithelial cells. After digestion, proteins become mainly peptides. The size and polarity of peptides have been reported to associate closely with their absorption," the author of the study, Dr. Da Chen, a post-doctoral researcher at Ohio State University, told Medical News Today.

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Chen went on to explain that in the study, "peptides produced from the digestion of plant-based meats were larger [and less water soluble], which makes them pass through the epithelial cells slower compared to chicken, resulting in less efficiency of absorption."

Beyond that, Rachel Fine, RDN at To The Pointe Nutrition, tells Eat This, Not That!, "when compared to animal proteins, plant proteins are considered 'incomplete' because they do not contain all essential amino acids needed for anabolic muscle growth." On the other hand, "complete proteins that contain all essential amino acids are more efficiently utilized by the body."

At the same time, Fine notes that "with new plant-based proteins filling market shelves these days, there are certainly plant-based foods—including whole grains, beans, and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables—that provide all essential amino acids." Fine explains that "today's food landscape provides so many great plant-based options that provide complete plant-based proteins including ancient grains like quinoa, farro, and amaranth."

There are also "plant-based proteins that can be incorporated into one's diet to help broaden the spectrum of amino acids consumed." That includes almonds, edamame, chickpeas, dried pumpkin seeds, as well as pseudo-cereals like quinoa and buckwheat.

To find out more about getting the proper amount of protein in your diet, be sure to read 25 Ways to Increase Your Protein Intake.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more