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Animal Protein VS Plant-Based Protein

Which protein is better for you?

By Pam Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
ZonePerfect Nutritionist

December 2019

Whether you’re vegan, pescatarian, or a total carnivore, your protein intake should be balanced for your lifestyle choice. So, what’s better, animal protein or plant-based protein? Let’s break down the science.

What do the experts say?

It depends on who you ask. Ask a scientist and they’ll explain that most animal sources- beef, dairy, egg- contain all essential amino acids and are easy to digest and utilize. Some plant sources are great choices for protein – think soy, quinoa- as they have the essential amino acids you need and in amounts your body can utilize. Other plants – fruits, veggies, legumes, and grains – are limited in total protein and they are harder to digest. So if you only rely on grains, legumes, and other plants for protein, be sure to grab a variety, consume throughout the day, and aim for a generous intake!

experts say

Finding plant-based foods that fit

You needn’t look too hard to find fuel from plants; plant-based options continue to abound, ranging from keto-approved coconut fuel to low-carb plant-based “burger” patties to something as familiar as a 40/30/30 blend of stir fry with brown rice, veggies, peanuts, and tofu. When looking for plant protein options, aim for as complete as possible. Soy, pea, and fava bean are some top sources, rounded out by quinoa, legumes, rice, pumpkin, cranberries, you name it. When it comes to selecting plant protein, ask yourself, would I typically choose this food when looking for protein? At the end of the day, fill your plate with variety and space your protein out across meals.

What’s the right serving size for plant-based or vegetarian protein sources?

1oz of nuts, ½ cup legumes, or 1 egg (for ovo-vegetarians) typically provides between 5-8 grams of protein. Meat sources, on the other hand, provide between 20-25 grams of protein. Although you’re not getting as much protein at once, with a variety of choices, it should be deliciously easy to meet your bare minimum daily protein needs.

Animal Protein VS Plant-Based Protein

Protein for Meatheads

No matter what you choose, rest assured that most all animal-based protein sources offer a complete blend of essential amino acids. That means choices like dairy, eggs, poultry, beef, pork, and fish offer all the amino acids your body needs to support growth, repair, recovery, and health. Unless you’re going keto, aim for lean protein most of the time. And unless you’re on the run and grabbing a dairy based choice like ZonePerfect CarbWise (excellent choice BTW), grab whole food sources since full foods pack vitamins and minerals too. Many individuals flex their protein intake, grabbing plant protein at some meals and animal protein at others which is a great blend. No matter your plan, no matter your source, be sure to grab a variety, and enjoy in even amounts (so you keep your amino acid levels steady) across your day.

What counts as a serving of protein for non-plant-based protein?

In general, a serving of protein is about the size of the palm of your hand, a hockey puck, a deck of cards, or (for fish) a checkbook. These servings sizes provide between 20-25 grams of protein.

Why do we need protein?

Adults do grow every day—whether it’s new renewing various tissue or growing muscles after hours spent at the gym. No matter if you choose plants, animals, or a combination of both, it’s always best to select high-quality sources and choose a variety throughout the day. This way you’ll get plenty of amino acids to support growth and development.

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