Which Is Better for Weight Loss: Plant Protein or Animal Protein?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
March 14, 2024
Quinoa with vegetables

Plant-based proteins have been trending for at least a decade. Studies suggest foods such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds can be healthier than animal-based proteins like red meats, eggs, fish and poultry in that they can:

  • Help lower the risk for heart disease.
  • Provide plant-based nutrients like fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Be better for the environment.
  • Be free from saturated fat, which has been linked to a higher risk for chronic diseases.

Of course, plant-based proteins don’t beat animal-based proteins in every category. For example, animal-based proteins are a very good source of vitamin B, important for brain function and red blood cell formation; they can be easier to digest and have a higher nutrient absorption rate than plant-based protein; they are lower in carbohydrates and are complete proteins, including all the essential amino acid building blocks. They’re also better for bone health.

If you’re trying to lose weight or manage your weight, you’ll do well to eat both. But which one hails as the champion? Experts consider plant-based proteins the better choice for weight control.

Why is Protein Important?

Protein is comprised of building blocks or amino acids. There are hundreds of them, but your body only needs 20 to function correctly. Eleven of the 20 can be produced by your cells; however, the remaining nine are essential, meaning that you must get from your diet. Foods that contain essential amino acids are known as complete proteins and the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, quinoa and buckwheat. As you can see, there are a few complete plant-based proteins, but most tend to be incomplete. If you prefer plant-based proteins, this isn’t a problem, as long as you’re getting a variety of plant-based proteins into your diet.  

Protein, regardless of its source, has many benefits, as it contributes to:  

How Does Protein Help You Lose Weight?

Protein also takes longer to breakdown during digestion and requires more calories to digest, absorb and metabolize than carbohydrates and fat. This helps you burn more calories and boost your metabolism. Furthermore, eating quality protein also helps preserve muscle weight during weight loss. When you lose weight, it’s unavoidable to lose some muscle mass. Protein can help minimize the loss. This is important because muscle helps drive your metabolic rate – the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is.

Why Are Plant-Proteins Better for Weight Control?

Plant-based proteins are considered better for weight loss because they have viscous fiber, a type of soluble fiber that helps you feel fuller after meals, so there’s less snacking. They also help reduce cravings. Good sources of viscous fiber include oats, beans and flaxseeds.

When selecting plant-based proteins, you want whole foods such as chickpeas, quinoa and nuts/seeds. Limit processed variations of protein like meatless burgers.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Variables such as age, weight, gender, overall health, activity level and pregnancy status are involved in determining the amount of protein you need each day. However there is a formula you can use to help you figure it out.

Illnesses and injuries can raise your protein needs. However, don’t take matters into your own hands. Talk to your doctor before changing your diet, as too much protein can: 

  • Stress the kidneys.
  • Raise homocysteine level, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
  • Elevate insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) level, which raises the risk for cancer.
  • Speed the mechanism that instructs cells to either repair itself or reproduce, raising the risk for cancer. A slower mechanism allows time for a cell to properly identify if it needs to repair itself before reproducing.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider joining an MDVIP-affiliated practice. MDVIP-affiliated doctors have the time to work with you to focus on your health and wellness. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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