Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein

What's the Difference?

Animal protein and plant protein are two different sources of dietary protein. Animal protein is derived from animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. It is considered a complete protein as it contains all the essential amino acids required by the human body. Animal protein is also easily digestible and has a high biological value, meaning it is efficiently utilized by the body. On the other hand, plant protein is obtained from plant-based sources like legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. While plant protein may lack certain essential amino acids, it can still be combined with other plant-based foods to form a complete protein. Plant protein is also generally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to animal protein, making it a healthier choice for individuals with certain dietary restrictions or preferences.


AttributeAnimal ProteinPlant Protein
SourceDerived from animalsDerived from plants
Complete ProteinYesNo (except for soy and quinoa)
CholesterolContains cholesterolCholesterol-free
Fat ContentVaries depending on the sourceGenerally low in fat
Fiber ContentNo fiberContains fiber
Vitamin B12Good sourceNot naturally present (except in fortified products)
IronPresent in heme form (easily absorbed)Present in non-heme form (less easily absorbed)
Environmental ImpactHigher carbon footprintLower carbon footprint
CostVaries depending on the sourceVaries depending on the source

Further Detail


Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a crucial role in the growth, repair, and maintenance of our body tissues. It is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. While both animal and plant sources provide protein, they differ in their composition and nutritional attributes. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of animal protein and plant protein, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Nutritional Composition

Animal protein, derived from sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, is considered a complete protein. This means it contains all the essential amino acids required by the human body. These amino acids are crucial for the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. On the other hand, plant protein, found in legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, is often considered incomplete as it lacks one or more essential amino acids. However, by combining different plant protein sources, such as beans and rice, one can obtain a complete amino acid profile.


Animal protein is generally more easily digested and absorbed by the body compared to plant protein. This is due to the fact that animal proteins have a higher biological value, meaning they contain a balanced proportion of essential amino acids. The human body can readily utilize these amino acids for various physiological functions. Plant protein, on the other hand, may have lower digestibility due to the presence of certain anti-nutritional factors, such as phytates and fiber. However, cooking, soaking, or fermenting plant protein sources can enhance their digestibility and reduce the impact of these anti-nutritional factors.

Cholesterol and Saturated Fat

Animal protein sources, particularly red meat and high-fat dairy products, tend to be higher in cholesterol and saturated fat compared to plant protein sources. Excessive intake of cholesterol and saturated fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other health issues. Plant protein sources, on the other hand, are generally low in cholesterol and saturated fat, making them a healthier choice for individuals concerned about their cardiovascular health.

Environmental Impact

One of the key differences between animal protein and plant protein lies in their environmental impact. Animal agriculture, especially the production of meat and dairy, contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution. Additionally, it requires large amounts of land, water, and feed resources. In contrast, plant protein production has a lower environmental footprint. Plant-based diets have been recognized as a more sustainable option to reduce the strain on natural resources and mitigate climate change.

Health Benefits

Both animal protein and plant protein offer various health benefits. Animal protein is rich in essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain function, red blood cell production, and immune system support. Plant protein, on the other hand, is typically high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which have been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, plant-based diets have been shown to promote weight loss and improve overall metabolic health.

Considerations for Specific Dietary Needs

Individuals with specific dietary needs or restrictions may need to consider the attributes of animal and plant protein sources. For example, vegetarians and vegans rely solely on plant protein sources to meet their protein requirements. They need to ensure they consume a variety of plant-based protein sources to obtain all the essential amino acids. On the other hand, individuals following a ketogenic or low-carbohydrate diet may prefer animal protein sources due to their higher fat content and lower carbohydrate content.


In conclusion, both animal protein and plant protein have their own unique attributes and nutritional profiles. Animal protein is a complete protein source, easily digestible, and rich in essential nutrients. However, it may also be higher in cholesterol and saturated fat. Plant protein, although often incomplete, is generally lower in cholesterol and saturated fat, and offers additional health benefits through its fiber and antioxidant content. Moreover, plant protein production has a lower environmental impact. Ultimately, the choice between animal and plant protein depends on individual dietary preferences, health considerations, and environmental concerns.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.