A Systematic Review of the Effects of Plant Compared with Animal Protein Sources on Features of Metabolic Syndrome

J Nutr. 2017 Mar;147(3):281-292. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.239574. Epub 2017 Jan 25.


Dietary protein may play an important role in the prevention of metabolic dysfunctions. However, the way in which the protein source affects these dysfunctions has not been clearly established. The aim of the current systematic review was to compare the impact of plant- and animal-sourced dietary proteins on several features of metabolic syndrome in humans. The PubMed database was searched for both chronic and acute interventional studies, as well as observational studies, in healthy humans or those with metabolic dysfunctions, in which the impact of animal and plant protein intake was compared while using the following variables: cholesterolemia and triglyceridemia, blood pressure, glucose homeostasis, and body composition. Based on data extraction, we observed that soy protein consumption (with isoflavones), but not soy protein alone (without isoflavones) or other plant proteins (pea and lupine proteins, wheat gluten), leads to a 3% greater decrease in both total and LDL cholesterol compared with animal-sourced protein ingestion, especially in individuals with high fasting cholesterol concentrations. This observation was made when animal proteins were provided as a whole diet rather than given supplementally. Some observational studies reported an inverse association between plant protein intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but this was not confirmed by intervention studies. Moreover, plant protein (wheat gluten, soy protein) intake as part of a mixed meal resulted in a lower postprandial insulin response than did whey. This systematic review provides some evidence that the intake of soy protein associated with isoflavones may prevent the onset of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, i.e., hypercholesterolemia and hypertension, in humans. However, we were not able to draw any further conclusions from the present work on the positive effects of plant proteins relating to glucose homeostasis and body composition.

Keywords: animal protein; blood pressure; body composition; cholesterol; glucose homeostasis; metabolic syndrome; plant protein.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure
  • Dietary Proteins*
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Meat / standards*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / blood*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / standards*


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Plant Proteins