Have you solved the protein puzzle: meat or plants?

November 9, 2019 Providence Nutrition Team

Questions and debate swirl around about the best sources of protein. Here are some things to consider when it comes to helpful meat-based and plant-based proteins.

  • There are many sources of protein in meat and plants.
  • Plant proteins do have a place in our diet.
  • Adults and kids need different amounts of protein for health.


Here’s something to chew on:

Someone once asked Patrik Baboumian, the world-record-holding Strongman, “How could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?”

His answer was, “Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?”

That’s certainly food for thought, especially when it comes to protein. You’ve probably heard the questions and debate about whether meat is the best way for the body to get protein. Or are vegetables a healthier way? Do vegetarians and vegans suffer from a lack of protein? What exactly is the best kind of protein?

What’s protein all about?

One thing we can all agree on: Protein is vital for energy and supporting your mind, body and mood.  It’s an essential nutrient that builds, maintains and repairs cells, tissues and organs all through your body.

When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into 20 essential amino acids. For instance, consider the amino acid tryptophan for strengthening your mood and mind. Tryptophan produces serotonin in your body. In the right amount, serotonin can help lower symptoms of depression and anxiety and can also improve how your brain functions overall.

You get all the amino acids your body needs from most animal sources of protein such as:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

You can also get the same or similar amino acids from plant-based protein sources including:

  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky for some people: The plant-based sources often lack one or more of those essential amino acids. The good news is, you still don’t have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. The key is variety. By eating a range of plant-based sources of protein every day, you can make sure your body gets the essential amino acids it needs.

Protein strengthens your body

Strongman Patrik Baboumian’s isn’t the only one who benefits from good proteins. When it comes to boosting every part of our body, protein packs a punch. The essential amino acids it produces help:

  • Keep the immune system functioning well
  • Boost resistance to stress
  • Maintain a healthy heart and respiratory system
  • Speed up recovery after exercise
  • Lower the risk for diabetes
  • Maintain a healthy weight by curbing appetite and adding to a feeling of fullness
  • Provide extra energy for physical activity

Plant proteins do have a place in our diets.

Many of the animals we eat get their protein from plants. To go a step further, most of the largest, strongest animals on earth — horses, elephants, gorillas and others — are plant eaters. 

According to the movie “The Game Changers,” conventional wisdom is that meat and other foods produced by animals, like eggs, are the best way to make sure we get enough protein. But the movie points out that many of the animals we eat get their protein from plants. To go a step further, most of the largest, strongest animals on earth — horses, elephants, gorillas and others — are plant eaters. Certainly no one would say these animals don’t have big muscles and good health.

How much protein should you have in your diet?

That depends on your overall calorie intake and needs. Most adults should get about 10% to 35% of their total calories from protein. For instance, someone on a 2,000-calorie diet can eat up 100 grams of protein, or 20% of their total daily calories in protein.

Children and teens may need different amounts depending on their age. If their protein source is meat-based, consider these healthy sources of animal protein:

  • Skinless turkey or chicken
  • Lean cuts of beef or pork, including
    • Round
    • Top sirloin
    • Tenderloin (trim away any visible fat)
  • Fish or shellfish
  • Low-fat dairy products

Healthy, plant-based sources of protein include:

  • Pinto beans
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds or walnuts
  • Tofu, tempeh, seitan and other soy protein products

Whichever route you take when it comes to this building block of life — meat-based or plant-based — you need protein to help repair your body’s cells and make new ones. It’s also vital for helping children, teens and developing fetuses grow and thrive.

Find a doctor

If you’re trying to improve your eating habits, make healthier choices, and upgrade your overall health, talk to your doctor. You can find a Providence nutritionist using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.







Related resources

Patrik Baboumian

How to cook for vegans (when you’re not one)

Cooking hearty vegetarian meals that carnivores will love

Protein in diet

Food Gallery: Protein Food Group

Ask a dietitian: Should I eat a plant-based diet?

The Game Changers” movie

Do you enjoy a meat-based or plant-based diet — or both? Talk about it at #nutrition and with #protein readers @psjh.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.



About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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