Animal vs plant-based proteins: Which is better for weight management?

Experts recommend incorporating at least some plant-based protein such as beans, into your diet, as well as focusing on lean animal protein such as fish or chicken. PHOTOS | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Experts recommend incorporating at least some plant-based protein such as beans, into your diet, as well as focusing on lean animal protein such as fish or chicken.

Proteins is an important part of a healthy diet. It is made up of chemical 'building blocks' called amino acids which the body uses to build and repair muscles and bones and to make hormones and enzymes. Protein can also be used as an energy source.

According to Ivan Philip Baguma, a nutritionist, protein is a nutrient your body needs to grow and repair cells, and to work properly. Therefore, it is important that you get enough protein in your diet every day.

“The amount of protein you need from your diet varies depending on your weight, gender, age and health. Meeting your protein needs can be easily achieved through eating a variety of plant and animal sources,” he says.

Why proteins?

Protein plays a crucial role in weight loss through several mechanisms such as satiety where protein increases the feeling of fullness, which is essential when trying to lose weight. It prevents one from eating between meals and getting the urge to eat processed and junk foods. 

Baguma says, “A higher protein intake increases levels of the satiety (appetite-reducing) hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.”

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): After you eat, some calories are used for the purpose of digesting and metabolizing the food. This is often termed the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-30percent) compared to carbohydrates (5-10percent) and fat (0-3percent). This means that 100 calories (about 8 minutes of running) of protein only end up as 70 usable calories.

Boosts metabolism: A high protein intake tends to boost metabolism. It makes you burn more calories around the clock, including during sleep. A high protein intake has been shown to boost metabolism and increase the number of calories burned by about 80 to 100 per day.

Preserves muscle mass: Proteins are an essential macronutrient when it comes to preserving and gaining muscle mass. They intervene in the digestive process and are part of muscle structures and bone tissues.

Plant vs animal proteins

The battle between plant-based and animal-based proteins has been a long, complicated one but many scientists have always sided with animal protein, citing that they have more nutrients.

Eggs for instance contain 13 essential nutrients. These include the vitamins folate, riboflavin and vitamin D; the minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron, iodine, selenium and zinc; the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin; and choline, a vitamin-like substance.

Increasing the amount of protein you eat may help support weight loss by regulating certain hormones and helping you feel fuller longer, among other benefits.

About complete proteins, animal protein contains all 20 of the amino acids needed for protein synthesis. However, plant-based proteins do not always contain the amino acids, but you can get all 20 amino acids by consuming more than one type of plant.

Animal based proteins generally have lower amounts of fibre yet plant based proteins have high fibre which can provide additional health benefits. More fiber keeps you fuller so that you do not snack more often.

When it comes to health benefits, animal based proteins are essential for body functions, including growing new tissue and serving as hormones. Diets rich in plant-based proteins on the other side have been associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and reduced risk of obesity compared to diets high in animal proteins. Better digestion, gut health, and regular bowel movements.

According to Science Direct, animal proteins, found in meat, poultry, fish and seafood, provide excellent, high-quality protein, vitamin B12, and the minerals iron and zinc. 

The recommendation therefore is to focus on lean animal protein. About 10 percent of your protein should come from animals while 90 percent of your protein should come from plant-based sources.

“A healthy diet requires one to eat a balanced diet but it is always important to consult with a dietitian or a nutritionist to understand what is best for your individual health needs.”


The human body cannot store protein and if there is any excess, it will be excreted. Therefore, the most effective way of meeting your daily protein requirement is to eat small amounts at every meal.

“If there is extra protein it will not be used efficiently by the body. This may impose a metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver. Moreover, high-protein especially high-meat diets may also be associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease due to intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol or associated with colon and breast cancers,” he warns. 

Commonly quoted recommendations of protein consumption are 56 grams/day for men and 46 grams/day for women. Protein deficiency can cause symptoms such as swelling, stunted growth, a weakened immune system, skin and hair changes, and bone and muscle loss.

Baguma adds that, “I recommend plant protein because it has fewer disadvantages and in any case it has much more fibre boosting weight loss. Protein can be used to make calories in the body, therefore, Animal protein being bioavailable could sabotage weight loss and interrupt your fat burning metabolism so more non starchy veggies are preferred for weight loss and not a domination of proteins.”

Common protein-rich foods include:
● Eggs: There are six grammes of protein in one large egg.
● Nuts: There are six grammes of protein in 28 grammes of almonds.
● Chicken: One cooked chicken breast contains 53 grams of protein.
● Cheese: There are seven grammes of protein in 28 grammes of cheddar cheese.
● Greek yoghurt: You will get 17 grammes of protein in 170 grammes.
● Milk: You get eight grammes of protein in one cup of milk.
● Lean beef: There are 22 grammes of protein in 85 grammes
● Fish: 39 grams in one cup of tuna.
● Quinoa: Eight grammes of protein in one cup, cooked
● Lentils: 18 grams of protein in one cup, cooked.