Apr. 5. 2019
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Part of mindful eating is being conscious of where your food came from, and that means researching and understanding the best sources to buy animal proteins if you or a family member does consume them.

Whether you’re consuming animal proteins or someone in your family is, there are a few things you should know when it comes to finding the most conscious and high-quality sources possible — both for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of the animals and planet.

Nutrition Stripped Position On Animal Proteins

At Nutrition Stripped, I created all our recipes in the Nutrition Stripped Cookbook and on this website as a resource for everyone, no matter what lifestyle they practice, to enjoy the recipes and make them their own.

That means, all our recipes are very simple, plant-based, gluten-free, and dairy-free at their core to enable you to add what you specifically and uniquely need, or don’t, and keep them as is.

We get a lot of readers who enjoy eating vegan whereas their partners consume animal proteins which is why our recipes are transitional! You can easily add animal proteins if you choose to any recipe to fit your needs, and if not, then leave them completely plant-based.

Our position on both plant-based and animal proteins has been the same since day one — source matters and quality matters.

Animal Proteins

From a mix of personal and professional perspectives, the humane practices deeply matter with the animal proteins we recommend at Nutrition Stripped.

Supporting farmers whose farming practices involve ethical and humane ways of caring for the animal and feeding that animal their natural diet is paramount. If at all possible, avoid animal proteins that are a result of factory farming.

Factory farming, or industrialized livestock production, is a modern way agriculture has kept up with the demand for a high-use of animal protein in food items. It’s a scale that mass-produces animal proteins for the least amount of cost possible.

This process does not take into consideration the wellbeing or welfare of the animals who are producing these animal products such as dairy, eggs, or meat.

Animals not fed their natural diet such as a diet with grain, soy, and antibiotics may increase stress hormones, increase pro-inflammatory fats such as arachidonic acid, decrease vitamin and mineral content, and can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance for the consumer, and increase potential food safety issues. (1)

There are obvious ethical, moral, and humane issues associated with animal protein production and also climate and environmental issues. (2) It’s in our power as consumers to support outlets and methods that are more sustainable and ethical as much as possible. (3) (4)

Bottom Line: If you choose to consume animal proteins, opt for animal proteins that are sourced ethically and humanely raised — from a health, ethical, and environmental standpoint.

What Are Animal Proteins?

Animal proteins are proteins that are from an animal — meat, organ meats, collagen, whey/casein/collagen protein powders, eggs, dairy, fish, cheese, etc.

Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, are those proteins that come from plants — legumes, blue-green algae, tofu, tempeh, soy, nuts, seeds, etc. To read more about what plant-based proteins are, read here.

Nutrients found in animal proteins

Just as plant-based proteins are abundant or richer sources of certain nutrients, animal proteins also are rich in certain important nutrients and contain all essential amino acids.

As with all nutrients found in both plant-based and animal proteins, there are many food sources in a whole food diet that can adequately provide for these nutrients in other sources.

  • Iron: iron, specifically heme-iron, is only found in animal products. Non-heme iron is the type of iron found in plant-based proteins. Heme iron is better absorbed and utilized by the body compared to non-heme or plant-based iron sources. (5) (6) (7)
  • Omega-3 (EPA and DHA): DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and marine-sources. Both DHA and EPA are important omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health, brain health, fetal development, and is found in fatty fish like salmon. (8) (9) (10)
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is found in animal sources such as fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products. It’s also found in many fortified plant-based foods such as nutritional yeast, plant milk, and of course supplements. Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in nerve health and can be a common deficiency in those who avoid animal products and do not fortify or supplement with vitamin B12, or those with certain health conditions that make it more difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B12 (11) (12).
  • Zinc: Zinc is an important mineral in our immune health, wound healing, and plays a role in thyroid and metabolic health overall. Zinc is found in many animal-based proteins such as egg yolks, fish, beef, and more. Zinc from animal-sources is easier for the body to absorb and utilize compared to plant-based sources. (13) (14)

Health Benefits and Risks

Red meat, a type of animal protein from cows, is rich in the nutrients mentioned above such as iron, protein, zinc, and vitamin B12, but also carries health risks.

Studies show processed red meats are linked with increased risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease, excess weight, diabetes, and increased risk of death. (15) (16) (17)

However, some studies show unprocessed red meat consumption is not linked to cardiovascular disease compared to processed red meat. (18) What about poultry like chicken and fish that matter? In these studies, poultry and fish don’t have the same health risks as processed red meat.

Portion Sizes Of Animal Proteins

Protein portion sizes, whether we’re talking about animal sources or plant-based sources, will vary depending on the individual.

A basic and simple guideline to follow is to have some type of protein at each meal. If you’re incorporating animal proteins into your diet, they do not need to make up the protein at every meal, you can mix it up.

Explore ways to add more plant-based proteins into your diet and explore utilizing animal proteins as a condiment or something eaten in smaller quantities if finding high-quality animal proteins isn’t as accessible to your lifestyle. More tips for how to eat healthy on a budget, here.

Where To Purchase Quality Animal Proteins?

Of course, you can go to the grocery store and see aisles of animal proteins, but what’s the best option?

If you have a local CSA or farmers market, check these options out as your first way to purchase NS approved animal proteins. Most likely you can visit the farm to see how the animals are raised and their living conditions. This way you’re also supporting local farmers. Bonus, you can typically purchase in bulk.

The second is to look for companies who are making it simple for consumers to support better practices such as those listed below.

Some resources we recommend:

  • Butcher Box — a delivery service of high-quality and humanely raised animal products
  • Vital Choice — for sustainably, wild-caught seafood and broths
  • Applegate Farms — this is more popular and you’ll probably see this at your local health food store or grocery store. They offer a bit more processed meats like sausages, but the quality of meat is high.
  • Eat Wild, Local Harvest, and Eat Well Guide — comprehensive maps and directories of where to find humanely sourced animal products depending on your state
  • Sitka Salmon Shares — a subscription service that sources sustainably caught wild seafood and delivers to your door.

When shopping, stick to the animal proteins labeled with: organic, 100% grass-fed, wild-caught, sustainable, humanely raised. If you’re purchasing from the butcher counter, ask them about the sourcing and share specifics of what you’re looking for so you get the best quality.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to consume animal proteins, be conscious of the source, how the animal was raised, treated, and the quality of the protein. Paying attention to how you’re cooking your food matters too, read our guide for healthy cooking methods.

When in doubt, research the supplier, get to know your farmer, and build relationships with the resources and sources who are providing proteins to you and your family.

It’s not about following a strict way of eating or judging those who choose to nourish their bodies with or without animal proteins. We’re all different and deserve to consume food in a way that best serves our unique long-term health.

For more reading on protein, you might also enjoy these articles:

Do you have any questions about animal-proteins not answered in this article? Comment below so we can continue to add information to answer your questions!