February 23, 2024

Animal Protein Vs. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?

Written by our expert


Avanthika Nityanand

M.Sc Human Genetics, B.Sc Plant Biology & Plant Biotechnology

Animal Protein Vs. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?
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Proteins play a crucial role in almost every biological process in the human body.

They repair tissues and make enzymes and hormones; protein is a critical nutrient in our diet.

However, not all proteins are created equal.

With more people adopting the vegan lifestyle, the question of whether plant protein is adequate to replace animal protein completely has been a million-dollar question.

In this blog post, we will attempt to do a nuanced comparison between plant and animal proteins.

We will explore their sources, nutritional benefits, and impact on health and the environment.

Whether you're a committed vegan, a staunch carnivore, or somewhere in between, understanding the differences and similarities between these two protein sources can empower you to make informed dietary choices that align with your health goals and ethical considerations.

What is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient for the human body.

Contrary to the common view that protein mostly helps to build muscle, it is more than just that.

It's a dynamic molecule involved in nearly every physiological process, from cell structure to metabolism and immune response regulation.

Proteins are composed of long chains of amino acids which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sometimes sulfur. [ref]

These amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of proteins, and their sequence determines the protein's structure and function.

A Little On Amino Acids

There are twenty different amino acids that can combine in various ways to create proteins.

The human body can produce eleven of these, known as non-essential amino acids, while the remaining nine, known as essential amino acids, must be obtained from the diet.

The essentiality of including these in our diet cannot be overstated. You need these amino acids to help your body grow, repair, and maintain body tissues.

How do you Assess the Quality of a Protein?

The two most important features of a high-quality protein food source are:

  1. Number of essential amino acids it contains (preferably all nine of them)
  2. How easily your body can digest the protein [ref]

This is where the distinction between animal and plant proteins becomes particularly relevant.

Understanding this distinction is key to making informed choices about dietary protein sources and balancing nutritional needs with personal health goals and ethical considerations.

Chicken breast is particularly valued for its high protein content, with about 31 grams of protein per 100 grams, making it one of the richest protein sources available. [ref]

This lean meat is low in fat, especially when consumed without the skin. It contributes to its popularity among individuals looking to increase their protein intake without significantly increasing calorie or fat consumption.

Moreover, the protein in chicken breast is easily digestible, allowing the body to utilize these proteins effectively for muscle repair and growth, making it a preferred choice for athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone engaged in regular physical activity.

Additionally, chicken breast is versatile and can be prepared in various healthy ways, fitting into many dietary preferences and meal plans.

Animal Protein: Sources and Benefits

Animal protein comes from various sources, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs.

These sources are often called "complete proteins" because they contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate proportions necessary for human health. [ref]

This completeness makes animal proteins highly valued in many diets, especially those concerned with muscle building and repair.

Sources of Animal Protein

  • Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats are rich in protein, vitamins B12 and B6, and minerals such as iron, zinc, and selenium.
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, and other poultry provide high-quality protein with lower fat content than red meat.
  • Fish: Especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, which are not only excellent protein sources but also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are not just protein-rich; they also offer calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D.
  • Eggs: Considered by many to be a nutritional powerhouse, eggs contain high-quality protein along with vitamins D and B12, riboflavin, and phosphorus.

Benefits of Animal Protein

  • Muscle Maintenance and Growth: Animal proteins' complete amino acid profile supports muscle repair and growth, making it a favorite among athletes and bodybuilders.
  • Nutrient-Rich: Animal proteins often come packed with essential nutrients that are harder to obtain from plant sources, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, heme-iron, and zinc.
  • Satiety and Weight Management: High-protein diets from animal sources have been shown to enhance satiety, which can help with weight management by reducing overall calorie intake.

Risks of Consuming Too Much Animal Protein

While animal proteins offer these significant benefits, it's important to consider the variety and moderation of sources.

Diets high in red and processed meats have been linked to increased health risks, including heart disease and certain cancers. [ref]

Balancing animal protein intake with plant sources can offer a broader range of nutrients while mitigating these risks.

Plant Protein: Sources and Benefits

Plant-based proteins have gained significant attention for their health and environmental benefits.

Derived from various sources, including legumes, grains, nuts, and vegetables, plant proteins can be an integral part of a balanced diet, particularly for those seeking to reduce their intake of animal products.

Sources of Plant Protein

  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are not only rich in protein but also fiber, iron, and folate.
  • Grains: Quinoa, rice, barley, and oats offer protein along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients.
  • Vegetables: Some vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, and kale, contain higher amounts of protein than others.

Benefits of Plant Protein

  • Diverse Nutrient Profile: Plant proteins bring a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to the diet, along with dietary fiber, which supports digestive health and can help manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Health and Wellness: Diets high in plant-based proteins are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Producing plant proteins requires less land, water, and energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases than animal protein production, making it a more environmentally sustainable choice.
  • Ethical Considerations: For many, the choice of plant-based proteins aligns with ethical concerns over animal welfare and the impact of meat production on the planet.

Risk of Relying Heavily on Plant Protein

It's important to note that most plant proteins, except for a few like quinoa and soy, are considered "incomplete" proteins, meaning they lack one or more essential amino acids.

This can be easily remedied by consuming various plant-based protein sources throughout the day, ensuring a complete amino acid profile without meticulous meal planning.

Comparing Nutritional Profiles: Who's Winning?

When evaluating the nutritional benefits of plant versus animal proteins, it's crucial to consider several factors beyond just the protein content.

These include amino acid profiles, micronutrient content, dietary fats' presence, and these nutrients' bioavailability.

Amino Acid Profiles

  • Animal Proteins [WINNER]: As mentioned, animal proteins are complete, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. This makes them highly effective for muscle repair, growth, and overall health.
  • Plant Proteins: Most plant proteins are incomplete, lacking one or more essential amino acids. However, individuals can easily obtain a complete amino acid profile by consuming various plant-based protein sources. For example, rice and beans together provide all essential amino acids.
Animal protein has better amino acid profile compared to plant

Micronutrient Content

  • Animal Proteins [TIE]: Offer significant amounts of vitamin B12, D, heme-iron (more easily absorbed by the body), zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish).
  • Plant Proteins [TIE]: Rich in fiber, antioxidants, folate, and non-heme iron. While non-heme iron is less readily absorbed than heme iron, consuming it with vitamin C-rich foods can enhance absorption.
Both plant and animal protein have good micronutrient content

Dietary Fats

  • Animal Proteins: Can be high in saturated fats, especially red and processed meats, which may contribute to increased heart disease risk when consumed in excess. [ref]
  • Plant Proteins [WINNER]: Generally lower in saturated fats and contain no cholesterol. Many plant-based protein sources, such as nuts and seeds, provide healthy unsaturated fats.
Plant protein have more healthy fats compared to animal protein


  • Animal Protein [WINNER]: Nutrient bioavailability from animal proteins is generally higher, meaning the body can absorb and utilize these nutrients more easily.
  • Plant Protein: Anti-nutrients in plant proteins, like phytates, which can inhibit mineral absorption, can be mitigated by proper cooking and preparation methods, such as soaking or fermenting.
Animal protein has better bioavailability compared to plant  protein

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

Animal Protein

Animal protein production is resource-intensive, requiring more land, water, and energy than plant proteins. It also generates higher greenhouse gas emissions. [ref]

Ethical concerns regarding animal welfare and the use of antibiotics and hormones in animal agriculture further complicate the picture.

Plant Protein [WINNER]

In contrast, plant protein production is generally more sustainable and associated with lower environmental impact, making it an attractive alternative for those concerned about the planet's health.

Plant proteins are more favorable to the environment and animal welfare compared to animal protein.

Health Implications

Animal Protein

Excessive red and processed meat consumption has been associated with increased health risks.

However, a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources can mitigate these risks and support overall health.

Plant Protein [WINNER]

Studies have shown that diets high in plant-based proteins are linked with numerous health benefits, including lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Plant protein is more beneficial to overall health


Choosing between plant and animal proteins involves considering a range of factors, including nutritional content, health implications, environmental impact, and ethical concerns.

By understanding the benefits and limitations of each, individuals can make informed dietary choices that align with their health goals, ethical values, and environmental concerns.

Whether incorporating more plant-based proteins or selecting sustainable animal protein sources, the key is balance and variety in one's diet.

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