Animal Sources of Protein Advantages

By Jan Annigan

Animal protein sources have gotten a bad rap in recent years. Setting aside ethical considerations, from a nutritional standpoint, an animal-based diet offers health benefits over a strictly plant-based diet, particularly when carefully constructed. An excess of saturated fat, the pitfall of animal protein sources, can be easily avoided by choosing lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products eaten in moderation, and by consuming fish.

Complete Protein

A prime advantage of animal proteins is the amino acid content. Animal proteins are nutritionally complete--they contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot manufacture and must obtain from our diet. Most plant sources have incomplete proteins, that is, at least one of the essential amino acids is missing. While different plant sources of proteins can be combined to provide a complete protein, care is required to combine them in a way that ensures all essential amino acids are present in the correct amounts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Choose an animal source of protein, and enjoy the freedom of knowing your body is receiving the amino acid balance it needs.

Vitamins and Minerals

Fat-soluble vitamins come to us from fatty sources in our diets. Two of the fat-soluble vitamins, A and D, are found almost exclusively in meat, eggs and dairy products. Lean meats, fish, eggs and dairy products are rich in several water-soluble B-vitamins as well. In addition to vitamins, essential minerals are available from animal sources of proteins. Dairy products are a plentiful source of calcium and phosphorus, both indispensable to bone health. Iron, a component of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, is easy to obtain from lean red meat, liver and eggs. Zinc, a mineral that supports immune health, is abundant in beef, pork and lamb. Both iron and zinc are more readily absorbed by the body when ingested from animal sources than from plant sources, states the National Institutes of Health. Select animal proteins, and benefit from vitamins and minerals packaged for efficient and ready absorption.

Healthy Fats

While you must choose some animal proteins carefully because they are bundled with unhealthy saturated fats, fish protein sources offer ample healthy fats. Salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are cold-water fatty fish that provide complete proteins with the advantage of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The Mayo Clinic cautions against eating too much of certain fish--swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish--that may contain high levels of toxins, but recognizes that, for most people, the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks. Enjoy several servings of fish per week to take advantage of a high-quality protein source that is good for your heart.

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