Animal vs. Plant Protein: What’s the Difference?

Protein plays an essential role in keeping us healthy. Our bodies must have protein to rebuild and renew damaged tissue, such as muscles, tendons, and organs. Protein is also essential for tissue repair and growth and helps prevent diseases like osteoporosis. A healthy diet should consist of 20 to 35 percent of calories in the form of protein. For many vegetarians and vegans, protein comes in plant form, and these plant-based protein sources are a healthy, tasty, and environmentally friendly way to meet your daily protein needs.

You may have heard some conflicting things about your protein choices. Are animal proteins better than plant proteins? Are they both good? And which ones should you choose? Well, let’s explore this protein dilemma. First, let’s define what protein is. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of our bodies. Protein can be found in animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and poultry; and in plant-based products, such as grains, legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, and peas.

 You may have heard the phrase “the older you are, the harder it is to build muscle,” but that’s a misconception. Regardless of your age, you build muscle. You just might not build as much muscle as you used to. And as you age, your body’s ability to use protein to build muscles may also decrease.

Plant vs. animal protein 

One of the most divisive topics in nutrition and one that has been debated among dietitians, medical professionals, and nutritionists for decades is whether we should consume more animal protein or more plant protein (or both?). The argument for plant protein focuses on the fact that plant protein is nutrient-dense, meaning it carries more vitamins and minerals than animal protein does. On the other hand, animal protein contains higher levels of iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. And while plant protein can be lacking in some of these nutrients, research shows that incorporating more plant protein than animal protein in your regular diet can help lower your risk of developing a number of health problems that could make you less healthy overall.

Animal protein sources

Animal protein sources come in wide varieties and forms. From red meat to chicken and fish, each can be a healthy option depending on your current diet. But others, like eggs, dairy, and soy, can cause problems for your overall health, while others, such as red meat and poultry, have potential health benefits. So, which is best for you?

With so many different types of meat to choose from, it can be hard to decide what to use when cooking a meal. Protein is an important component of the human diet since it builds and repairs the body’s tissues. Protein can be found in some of the more common types of meat, including chicken, beef, pork, and lamb. However, there are lots of other types of protein-rich meat available, including sea animals like fish, amphibians like frogs and toads, and reptiles like turtles.

Rich sources of animal proteins include:

  • eggs
  • fish and seafood
  • lean meat
  • poultry
  • wild game
  • dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese

Plant protein sources

Plant protein sources like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains are all plant-based proteins. While animal proteins such as meat, poultry, and seafood provide complete proteins, plant protein sources provide incomplete proteins. While animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids, plant protein sources only offer a few. To make up for this, combine plant proteins with animal protein sources.

Research continues to broaden our knowledge of plant proteins, which are now recognized to be a smart alternative to animal proteins in a healthy diet. They’re packed with nutrients and fibre, but they’re still palatable enough to appeal to herbivores. And with Americans consuming 34 percent more plant protein than they did in 1970, there are hundreds of plant proteins ripe for the picking.