Plant-based vs Animal-derived Food Products

Plant-based vs Carnivore; elephant vs lion

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Also note: While I am a certified nutrition coach, I am not a medical doctor. Information here is not intended to be a replacement for the advice you should seek from your doctor.

Let’s debate and examine the benefits of both ends of the spectrum, from plant-based to carnivore (plant-based vs animal-derived food products), and ultimately discover some middle ground!

In this article, you will learn:

  • The benefits and drawbacks of a plant-based eating lifestyle
  • The benefits and drawbacks of a carnivore diet, or other meat heavy diets
  • Why food rules make healthy living difficult, and more effective alternatives

Avoid the Fake Diet News

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be able to form your opinion about how many plant-based vs animal-derived food products you want to eat.

I would like to help you with my experience since I tried a lot of different types of diets such as paleo, keto, 100% plant-based, etc. I even went and got a Precision Nutrition coaching certification so I can reliably give you credible information. As well as coach you so you can undergo a similar transformation. Along my health journey, I’ve learned the hard way about how much fake news is out there when it comes to nutrition.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Plant-based vs Animal-derived Food Products

So, are you ready to figure out where you stand?

Protein and Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein, and your body needs protein to build your body’s tissues and muscle mass. Animal proteins are a more complete source for all of these building blocks. The chart here shows the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) makeup of various high protein foods. BCAA’s are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are essential, meaning they can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained from food. – Throwdown: Plant vs. Animal Protein for Type 2 Diabetes

However, there are proteins in a lot of plants such as beans, and even some veggies like broccoli, but those proteins do not have a complete profile of amino acids and are less easily digestible. Variety in your diet is key, and for fully plant-based eating, making sure you get a sufficient amount of plant proteins at each meal can help you meet your body’s needs.

Table of top vegetarian protein sources
Eating Well

It can be challenging to meet your protein needs when being fully plant-based unless you eat various sources of plant protein, and even more challenging for athletes and those struggling to retain muscle mass as they age. This doesn’t make a plant-based diet a bad thing. In fact, eating a plant-based diet can lower your risk for cancers and diseases.

Though a large part of the likelihood of meat consumers to develop diseases are partially due to the tendency to consume an excess of saturated fats that are in many meats. More on this in a minute.

It is also worth noting that for the average American, we usually get more than enough protein in our diets. An average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day while the average man about 56 grams. But most Americans consume about double the amount they actually need [2]. 

Environmental Impact

Raising animals for food requires a lot of resources – wood, land, water, etc. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation systems combined. Most agricultural emissions originate from soil management, enteric fermentation (during an animal’s digestive processes), energy use, and manure management.  The primary greenhouse gases related to agriculture are methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide[1]. Below, you can see the chart which shows how much greenhouse emissions are created per gram of various sources of protein.

Our World in Data greenhouse emissions of protein chart
Our World in Data

On the meat eater’s defense, eating small, low on the food chain animal foods like fish and mollusks poses a similar environmental impact as does a 100% plant-only diet. It seems a Pescatarian diet would benefit the environment much more than a diet including other types of agriculture, such as chicken and beef.

Reducing Environmental Impact as a Meat Eater

So, as a meat-eater, you could do a few things to reduce the environmental impact:

  • Limit meat intake: the less meat you eat, the better impact you make. But, you don’t have to necessarily give up the meat completely to protect the environment.
  • If you choose to eat meat, try to choose sustainably raised meat, like free-range, grass-fed, non-factory-farmed animals.
  • When eating more meals at home, you also make an impact, by using less packaging.
  • Slash your food waste (which also releases greenhouse gases).

Lack of Quality Agriculture

There are quality issues that complicate the case for animal products. Unfortunately, factory-raised meat is saturated with hormones and antibiotics. You can avoid that if you choose free-range meat. It is healthier for you and for the planet. Buying local is best because that way you are reducing the resources it takes for meat transportation.

The downside of free-range, grass-fed meat is the price. Good quality animal products tend to be more expensive. An economical solution could be to have more meatless meals.

I recently did an interview with a butcher and hunter. We are on the same page. Check out this interview below, or read about it here: How to Buy Sustainable Meat -for your Health, the Environment, and your Pocket!

Disease Risk

There were over 100 published epidemiological studies that show a connection between eating meat and cancer. Eating more legumes, fruits and veggies can reduce the risk of cancer. 

There is also compelling evidence that cancer-causing compounds are introduced in processed meat such as lunch meat, canned meat, jerkies, etc.

In large the link between meat consumption and cancer exists because meat-eaters tend to eat less of other healthy things. So their diets tend to be very high in calories and saturated fat, low in fiber and antioxidants, and low in vitamins and minerals. Overconsumption of animal products can get in the way of eating a sufficient variety of the abundant vitamins and nutrients that aid your body’s defenses against diseases.

If you choose to consume animal products, you should aim for lean meats and low fat dairy – a majority of the time. Increase intake of fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber has protective effects against the specific cancers meat is correlated with – stomach and colon.

Animal Welfare

Picture of modern animal farming
Factory farmed animals – I’m far too sensitive to reiterate the details in this article

I can’t leave out the elephant in the room too. Animal welfare is the leading motivation for many who adopt a Vegan lifestyle. There is a difference between plant-based and vegan, however. Plant-based is less about animal ethics and more about your health and the environment. You can read more about the differences between Vegan, plant-based, and whole food plant-based here.

Factory farming is the main cause of animal suffering and abuse. Again, the better option is to choose organic farm meat and dairy, and that way you can help reduce occurrences of animal mistreatment.


There are a lot of wonderful nutrients that are in meat that may not be in some plant foods. Meat, poultry, and fish come packed with several nutrients: proteins, B vitamins, Iron, Zinc, and more.

Drawing of fruits and vegetables and associated vitamins and health benefits
Love this beautiful chart I found on Reddit.

When compared to meat, plants often contain much lower amounts of those important nutrients, or are harder to absorb, like Iron and Zinc for example. However, we can get those nutrients from plants, we just have to work harder to get them and/or to take a supplement. A B12 supplement is required as you can only find it in meat and some fortified foods.

*While I was on a fully plant-based diet, I was taking a multivitamin, vitamin B complex, and vitamin D. These are all just supplements, not a primary source of those vitamins and minerals. Make sure to choose high-quality supplements!

On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are highly nutritious containing vitamins and minerals that meat doesn’t have at all. Plants often have a more abundant variety of antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc. 

The conclusion is that eating a little meat and lots of fruits, vegetables, and legumes allows you to get everything you need easily. It’s not impossible to fulfill these needs with a fully plant-based diet, but you will need to supplement.

So, is there a happy medium?

It is great to eat a variety of plant-based vs animal-derived food products, but with more plant foods abundant in your diet to be sure you reap the benefits that “nature’s medicine cabinet” has to offer. Choosing higher quality animal products when possible can also benefit you, and the world, greatly.

Try to implement and practice new positive changes one at a time. You don’t have to perfect! 

Restrictive diets are not often sustainable. 

Avoid as much processed food as you can.

Your lifestyle should lean to eating more plant-based food than animal food, eating more whole food, and getting regular exercise.

  1. Sources of Agricultural Greenhouse Gases
  2. Power Up with Plant-based Protein

1 thought on “Plant-based vs Animal-derived Food Products”

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