Animal vs. Plant-Based Protein: Understanding the Best Balance for You

Most have heard about protein — an essential macronutrient — and all its associated stories. Some think eating more animal protein will build muscles. Others stopped eating meat and switched to greens to help the environment.

Animal vs. plant-based protein is a controversial topic online. Many things are said about them, but each has its fair share of benefits and drawbacks.

Why You Need Protein

Protein is essential for the body to function well and stay healthy. It is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids should come from the diet, whereas the body can produce non-essential.

It helps boost the immune system, cell structure and muscle growth, among others. This nutrient is vital for many bodily functions, so proper and adequate intake is important to help you stay energized throughout the day.

You can get your daily protein needs from plants and animals, although their content and nutritional offerings differ.

How Much Protein Should You Eat Every Day?

The recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. A free online protein calculator can help take the guesswork out of knowing how much protein you need daily.

What’s the Difference Between Animal and Plant-Based Protein?

You need nine essential amino acids to get a proper diet.

Animal proteins — or complete proteins — contain all the essential amino acids. Meanwhile, plant-based proteins usually have incomplete proteins because they lack sufficient content of one or more essential amino acids.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t meet your daily protein requirements from plants. You can still do things to ensure your body meets its daily needs.

Benefits of Animal Protein

You can expect many health benefits from animal protein since it contains all the essential amino acids your body requires. Aside from providing your body protein, it also supplies other essential nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B12 — both essential to blood-cell production.

You can get animal proteins from:

  • Dairy products, such as whey, cheese and milk
  • Red meat, such as lamb, pork and beef
  • Poultry, like turkeys, quails and chickens
  • Seafood, such as snapper, trout and salmon

Red meat is one of the most common sources of animal protein. However, while it provides many health benefits, eating it in moderation is essential. This protein source contains saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease and weight gain.

If you’re trying to lose weight, fish and shellfish are good alternatives to red meat. Aside from supplying protein, seafood options help promote better immune function, heart health and joint function. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help boost brain health and metabolism.

Benefits of Plant-Based Protein

Aside from protein, plant-based sources offer vitamin C, flavonoids, antioxidants and fiber.

Replacing some animal protein with plant-based protein helps decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some cancers. Additionally, the fiber content aids proper digestion.

Regarding the environment, plant-based sources have a lower negative impact than animal-based proteins, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. You can think of eating plant-based foods as a win for your body and the environment.

Most plant sources lack one or more essential amino acids. However, some plant-based foods — like buckwheat and quinoa — provide complete protein sources.

Other plant-based sources include:

  • Grains
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Soy
  • Avocados
  • Rice

When on a plant-based diet, ensure you get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium from other food sources. You can choose plant-based milk like soy for added calcium and vitamin D content.

Which Is Healthier — Animal or Plant-Based Protein?

Not all proteins are equal, but both options have benefits and detractors. Having no variety of plant-based protein might lead to deficiencies. However, eating more animal protein can increase the risk of heart problems.

This means it’s essential to find the right balance. Despite the differences between these protein sources, you can fill your body’s needs when you practice mindful eating.

Make sure you’re getting enough protein with these tips:

  • If your protein needs primarily come from plants, consider adding more sources to meet the daily required intake.
  • More is not always better. Eat your required protein evenly throughout the day.
  • Protein helps build and repair muscles. If you exercise regularly, eat complete protein sources such as red meat, chicken, fish and dairy.
  • Feel free to mix and match animal and plant-based proteins — examples are beef, nuts or eggs, and peas.

Strike a Balance for a Healthy Diet

Animal and plant-based proteins may come from different sources and have varying protein content, but both are good for the body. Why choose only one when you can enjoy the nutritional benefits of both? After all, it’s all about finding the right balance and being conscious of your eating habits.