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  • Real Pork Trust Consortium

Why Protein Metrics Matter When Considering Food Sustainability

Pork tenderloin, a valuable source of protein, being sliced
Image courtesy of the National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa

Under the scientific guidance of Dr. Pedro Urriola, Assistant Professor of Animal Science at the University of Minnesota, Megan L. Meyer, Communication Assistant and Agricultural Communications student, summarized a 2021 peer-reviewed article written by Paul J. Moughan. The research findings discuss how protein quality and micronutrients should be taken into consideration when choosing a dietary protein source.

Major Finding

Plant-based diets, while purported to be environmentally friendly, may pose challenges in meeting protein quality and essential amino acid requirements. High-quality protein and balanced amino acids are integral to a healthy human diet. Without meat, careful planning is essential to ensure completeness of protein in a diet. Eating lower-quality protein sources may require increased intake, potentially impacting the sustainability of food systems. Consuming lower-quality protein could also result in inadequate protein consumption. Data suggests meat-based proteins have higher quality when considering factors such as digestibility and availability for nutrient absorption. Diverse protein sources make a balanced diet more attainable and contribute positive factors to the diet other than just protein, such as essential amino acids and key micronutrients (e.g., zinc, selenium, B vitamins, iron).


Why It Matters

Consuming meat gives us a protein source that provides more quality for less food. This means we can enjoy meat protein as part of a healthy diet while addressing sustainability goals, as evidenced by additional peer-reviewed literature such as this 2024 perspective piece in Advances in Nutrition.


How the Research Was Conducted

Using existing datasets from previous studies, the researcher investigated details about shaping a human diet by comparing amino acids in all kinds of meats and meat alternatives. The researcher used the datasets to showcase the average daily protein consumption per capita. This research was conducted in many countries around the world, and the plant-based diet came up short in all studies. Additionally, studies of lysine intake for plant protein versus animal protein were examined. Finally, greenhouse gas emissions were compared not only showcasing the emissions for protein, but also for lysine in meat as well. Results revealed animal protein is more sustainable when considering the amount of lysine.


Learn More

To learn more about differences in protein quality across different types of animal-based and plant-based food sources, read the full peer-reviewed journal article.

Why Protein Metrics Matter When Considering Food Sustainability
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