Animal vs Plant Protein


Protein is one of the macro-nutrients we need to live along with fats and carbohydrates. Our bodies use proteins from food to build and repair tissues, as well as make hormones, enzymes, and other things that are vital to our health. Protein exists throughout the body, from the muscles and organs to the bones, skin, and hair. About 20% of the human body is made up of protein. The body does not store protein like it does other macro-nutrients, so this protein has to come from the diet. You can get protein from many food sources, including plants and animals. Some people claim that the source of the protein, whether animal or plant, should not matter. Others suggest that plant protein is superior to animal protein. This article compares animal and plant proteins.

Plant vs Animal Protein

Proteins are made up of amino acids. A person’s body needs a balance of all 20 types of amino acids to function correctly. The body cannot produce nine of these acids, called essential amino acids. A complete protein source refers to a type of food that contains all nine. Having the right balance of amino acids can build muscle and help the body to recover from exercise quickly. Understanding the differences between plant and animal proteins is important for anyone who wants to ensure that their diet is healthful.
One of the main differences between plant and animal proteins involves their amino acid contents. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When the body digests the proteins in food, it breaks them down into amino acids. The body may need different amino acids at different times. Many people believe that the diet should include complete sources of protein, which contain all nine essential amino acids. Some animal products are complete sources of protein, such as:

  • fish
  • various types of eggs
  • dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and whey
  • red meat from cows, bison, and deer
  • poultry from sources such as chickens, turkeys, and quails
  • meat from less common sources, including boars, hares, and horses

Most plant proteins are incomplete, which means that they are missing at least one of the essential amino acids. However, some plant-based foods, such as quinoa and buckwheat, are complete sources of protein. It is important for vegetarians and vegans to mix their protein sources and ensure that they are getting all of the essential amino acids. Also, keep in mind that some sources of plant protein may take longer for the body to digest and use. The following are examples of plant-based foods rich in protein:

  • grains
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • beans
  • legumes
  • certain fruits, such as avocados
  • soy
  • hemp
  • rice
  • peas
  • Many other nuts, grains, and vegetables also contain high amounts of protein.

Which is better for health?

There are around 20 amino acids that the human body uses to build proteins. These amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential. Your body can produce non-essential amino acids. However, it cannot produce essential amino acids, which need to be obtained through your diet. For optimal health, your body needs all the essential amino acids in the right ratios. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are similar to the protein found in your body.

These are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively. On the contrary, plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils and nuts are considered to be incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that your body needs.


Health Benefits of Plant Protein

Diets high in plant protein, such as the vegetarian diet, are linked with many health benefits. Studies suggest vegetarians tend to have a lower body weight, lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure levels. They also have a lower risk of stroke, cancer and death from heart disease than non-vegetarians.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

A study found that a diet rich in protein (about half from plants) lowered blood pressure, cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease more than a standard diet or a healthy high-carb diet.

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

One small study of people with type 2 diabetes found that replacing 2 servings of red meat with legumes 3 days per week improved cholesterol and blood sugar.

Protection Against Weight Gain

Diets high in plant protein may also help you control your weight. An observational study following 120,000 men and women over 20 years found that eating more nuts was linked to weight loss. Also, eating one serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas per day can increase fullness and may lead to better weight management and weight loss.

One thing to consider is that people on vegetarian diets tend to be more health-conscious than the general population. Therefore, the health benefits of vegetarian diets are likely due to overall healthier diets and lifestyles, rather than any inherent difference between plant and animal proteins.

Health Benefits of Animal Protein

Animal protein is also associated with positive health effects, despite often being portrayed as unhealthy compared to plant protein. Fish and low-fat dairy were associated with a lower risk of heart disease. People who eat fish regularly are also likely to have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease. One study of more than 40,000 males found that those who regularly ate one or more servings of fish per week had a 15% lower risk of heart disease. Additionally, eating eggs has been linked to improved cholesterol levels and weight loss. In one study, women who ate eggs for breakfast, rather than a bagel, reported feeling fuller and ate less later in the day. Last but not least, eating animal protein is linked with increased lean muscle mass and a reduction in the muscle loss that occurs with age.

Nutrients Rich Animal Protein

Proteins are rarely found in isolation. They usually come with a wide variety of other nutrients. Foods that contain animal protein tend to be high in several nutrients that are often lacking in plant foods. These include:

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is mainly found in fish, meat, poultry and dairy products. Many people who avoid animal foods are deficient.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is found in oily fish, eggs and dairy. Some plants contain it, but the type found in animal foods is better used by your body.
  • DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fat found in fatty fish. It is important for brain health and is hard to get from plant sources.
  • Heme-iron: Heme-iron is predominantly found in meat, especially red meat. It is much better absorbed in the body than non-heme iron from plant foods.
  • Zinc: Zinc is mainly found in animal protein sources, such as beef, pork and lamb. It is also more easily absorbed and used from animal protein sources.

There are also plenty of nutrients found in plants that are lacking in animal foods. Therefore, eating balanced amounts of both is the best way to get all the nutrients you need.


A diet is low in processed meat, rich in plant protein, with some animal sources such as grass-fed meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy good for optimal health. As plant protein food sources often have lower quality proteins, vegetarians and vegans should eat a wide variety of foods to ensure that they are getting all the amino acids that they need. For meat eaters, it is important to get the right balance of both animal and plant foods.

Post a Comment


  1. Superb Information..yes, balance of animal and rich plant protein diet should be followed.

  2. As a vegetarian trying to become vegan, this is a great post. Loved the takeaway where you mentioned about balancing animal protein with plant protein for non vegetarians

  3. Very informative n need of the hour. Keep going. Good luck.

  4. A lot of options for vegetarian too

  5. We vegetarians do hve lots of option but amount of protein is less

  6. We vegetarians do hve lots of option but amount of protein is less

  7. Amazing topic...very well explained

  8. Thanks for details. I prefer plant Protein