What weighs more? A tonne of bricks or a tonne of feathers? What the hell does that have to do with meat vs protein you may ask? Well the reason I ask this question that has had many people baffled is because it is the logic used in a common meme shared on social media to try to portray vegetable sources of protein being superior to that of meat by vegans. Now, before I go on, please understand that this is not an anti vegan or anti vegetarian post. If you choose to be a vegan or vegetarian then more power to you. I have many friends who choose this lifestyle and I respect it and get it though I am a meat eater. No, this post is just about one thing and that is good old common sense added with a dash of science to help you understand proteins so you can choose your protein sources more wisely.
So anyway, back to the question. If your answer was a tonne of bricks then you'd be wrong. No, it's not feathers either. The answer is obviously, they both weigh the same. A tonne is a tonne regardless of weather it's bricks or feathers. You'd just need a hell of a lot more feathers than you would bricks which leads me nicely onto the argument presented by many vegan groups stating that Broccoli is a better source of protein than beef.
The image is clearly created to give you that impression although it does mislead and manipulate the facts because, much like feathers and bricks, it's down to density and volume. A calorie is a calorie just like a tonne is a tonne however, when we get down to the nitty gritty of density and volume, you'd need less meat than you would broccoli to get the same amount of protein gram for gram (and that's not the only reason the beef may be your better option).
Vegetables are clearly good for you. Vegetables, especially greens like broccoli, are packed full of nutrients not found in meats or in greater concentration such as plant phytonutrients and roughage. Vegetables are composed from fiber called cellulose and strands of sugar molecules called saccharides. Meat on the other hand is mostly protein and fat with little to no fibre or saccharides meaning there's no carbohydrate content in meat. As a protein source therefore, meat is superior because not only is it dense but it is also a complete source of protein by which I mean all essential amino acids (Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and Essential Aminos can not be synthesised by the body and must be ingested). Vegetables on the other hand are usually incomplete proteins because they do not contain all essential amino acids (with the exception of a few vegetables notably soy and quinoa) which means a pure vegetarian or vegan would need to take this into consideration when contemplating their protein sources and is usually done by combining different types of vegetables to get the full spectrum of aminos for examples, rice would be eaten with pulses, lentils or beans.
So let's talk about density and volumes.
The picture above states 100 calories of beef gives you 6.4 grams of protein. 100 calories of beef would equate to about 51g of beef. Broccoli comes in at 294g per 100 calories. What this means in order to get 100 calories of beef, you'd need to eat 51g and to get 100 calories of broccoli you would need to eat 294g of broccoli. Just what does that look like?
Well, one spear of broccoli which is approximately 5” long clocks in at 30 calories which is roughly 10 spears of broccoli to get 100 calories where as 100 calories of beef would equate to less than a serving of a small sized steak meaning pound for pound, meat packs more protein punch than vegetables and it comes with all the essential amino acids to boot as well as being more biologically available than vegetable protein (and as such, is digested and utilised by the body better).
As you can see, you would need to eat a hell of a lot of broccoli to get the same impact as the beef and even though I love broccoli, I would probably find it hard to consume that much not to mention the beef will come with the full spectrum of Amino acids (but beef and broccoli together gives you the best of both worlds!)
Also, It is interesting to look at the 100 calorie argument against how much protein we really need. There's a lot of debate about how much protein we should consume. I personally advocate between 1.5-2 grams of protein per 1kg of bodyweight depending on goals and levels of physical activity. Athletes who train extremely hard may even need more than 2 grams per kg of bodyweight so for an 80kg male athlete, they'd want to get at least 160grams of protein per day. Split that between 6 meals and you're looking at 26 grams of protein per meal which comes in at almost 25 broccoli spears per meal (okay it's over simplifying things, we're not just eating broccoli but I did want to emphasis the point that you'd need to eat more volume of vegetables to meet your protein needs which could mean overall ingesting more calories and specifically carbohydrates to meet your protein needs)
10 brocolli spears would give you approximately 100 calories and arpoximately 10 grams of protein. Compare that with this top sirloin steak. Only half of the steak is required for 100 calories and yields roughly the same amount of protein but has a full spectrum of amino acids. In this case, less is certainly more.
Another point to note when it comes to comparing meat to veggies, especially with regards to this popular image circulating on social media comparing beef to broccoli, it also depends on the cut of the meat. A fattier cut of meat will have a different nutritional composition to a leaner cut. The image states that 100 calories of beef yields 6.4 grams of protein actually the argument is wrong. Beef on average has about 11 grams of protein per 100 calories and Broccoli around 8 calories (so more lies from rawfornature or whoever made up the image).
So what about the other age old argument, if veggies are good enough for a Silver back gorilla (which is clearly a strong and muscular animal), they should be good for humans who are interested in strength and muscle. Again, I am not knocking vegetarianism and veganism and, if you are a vegan and intereted in muscle gain and strength, I strongly suggest checking out Mike Mahler but the fact of the matter is, you're not a goriilla, you're a human being, we do have some differences to our Simeon cousins that and the fact again that it all boils down to volume and density. A sliver back gorilla probably eats a shed load of vegetables to maintain its mass (but you'd better ask a zoologist just to be certain)
I can only conclude that from a purely scientific point of view, meat is clearly the winner in the meat vs vegetables debate as to which is the better protein source. That is an undeniable fact however, humans tend to go more on morals, ethics and values. If you eat meat then you can get your protein from both meat and vegetables and that's your choice. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, again that's your choice but your protein sources would be limited to vegetable sources and you'd have to consider food combining more closely to get a full spectrum of amino acids.
Further, I would like to say that the image of the beef vs broccoli portraying vegetables as a more superior protein source than meat is both manipulative and misleading. If you see anyone share that image, you can now share this article with them so they can get the real scoop on what's what, so please, feel free to share!