Chicken, Beef, or Fish: Which Protein Should You Choose?
There are many ways to get protein in your diet, including from mammals, fish, poultry, and even legumes, vegetables, and some grains. In fact, I always advise getting nutrients from a wide variety of fresh, organic foods. However, as I’ve counseled thousands of patients in my clinic, your diet’s not complete without protein from animals.
I’m often asked about whether one source of protein is better than another. First, let’s talk about what protein is, and why you need it. Then I’ll discuss why I advocate for animal proteins and what the best sources are. In addition, you’ll discover how to supplement your diet with The Myers Way® Paleo Protein.
What Protein Is and Why You Need It
Proteins are long chains of amino acids used to construct muscles and organs including your heart, eyes, stomach, and skin. There are more than 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to form protein molecules. From there, different sequences of amino acids create different protein structures in the body. These different structures determine the protein’s function.1
You need proteins to survive; they are the most sophisticated molecules in the human body.2 They carry out most of your body’s molecular reactions and assist in the formation of new molecules. They provide structure and support for tissues and organs.3 Proteins also serve as your antibodies, fighting off viruses and bacteria to protect your body from illness.
We can make some — not all — of the amino acids our bodies need to make protein. The amino acids we can make, even if we’re not eating protein, are called nonessential amino acids. The amino acids we can’t make are known as essential amino acids. We must get these critical building blocks by eating enough protein.
The richest protein sources include animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Another source is high-protein vegetables. A salad of dark leafy greens or a stir-fried side dish of Brussels sprouts are some typical sources. Nuts such as almonds, seeds including pumpkin seeds, and legumes and their byproducts including lentils and peanut butter are other sources.
It’s possible for vegans and vegetarians to get the essential amino acids they need from foods, however, this can be a little complicated. They must carefully combine foods to get a complete essential amino acid. Red beans and rice is one example of a combination that works.
Ensuring adequate protein intake is critical to your health. Protein deficiency can occur in any community at any age due to poor diet.4 In fact, it’s estimated that one billion people around the world don’t get enough of this critical nutrient.5 Without enough protein, your body can begin to decay.
Protein deficiency can results in:
- Cardiovascular disease6,7
- Dull or dry skin
- Hair loss
- Hormonal imbalance
- Insulin resistance (in those with type 2 diabetes)8
- Loss of muscle mass
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency
Let me pause here and explain something about the protein you eat and the protein in your body. When you eat protein from any source, your body breaks it down into amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Then your body reassembles those amino acids into whatever protein molecule it needs.
What’s the Best Source of Dietary Protein?
In terms of plant protein vs. animal protein, animal protein is the clear winner. Protein from as legumes, nuts, and seeds generally do not contain all nine essential amino acids. Plus, they can all be difficult to digest and some are highly inflammatory. Inflammation can lead to gut imbalances such as leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, and SIBO, and eventually to autoimmune diseases.
What about animal byproducts such as dairy and eggs? Dairy products including cottage cheese and yogurt are often touted as high-protein diet options that can assist with weight loss. Regardless of whether you want to gain or lose weight, I advise that everyone avoid dairy. It can result in inflammation, digestive issues, and even acne.
That leaves us with meat, poultry, and fish. These are all complete proteins with essential amino acids in a form that is relatively easy to digest and absorb.10 So what’s the best choice?
Wild-Caught Fish & Seafood
Fish and seafood such as wild-caught salmon are known for their high-quality protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins including B vitamins and vitamin D, and minerals such as potassium and selenium. All are essential for your body, and support growth and brain function.11 The best part about high-protein fish is its abundance of polyunsaturated fats (in the form of Omega-3s.) Despite this, there are some drawbacks to eating fish and seafood.
High-quality, wild-caught fish is a pricier option than other dietary sources of protein. Farmed fish is less expensive, yet the overcrowded conditions on many farms promote disease and parasite outbreaks. Farmers treat these with pesticides and antibiotics.12 Fish may also contain toxins such as mercury that can affect your nervous system.13,14
Grass-Fed Meat & Poultry
Another excellent source of protein is organic, grass-fed meat. There are so many choices depending on the animal, the cut, and where and how it was raised. Lean, red meat such as bison is low in total fat and salt. Untrimmed beef, lamb, and pork is higher in total and saturated fat.15
Meat and poultry are high in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, amino acids, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and more. They’re some of the most nutrient-dense foods.16 Yet dark poultry and red meat have a bad reputation. That’s because studies show that fatty proteins such as beef liver, brisket, ribs, and steak can increase LDL cholesterol levels.
Fortunately, you can still get many vitamins and minerals from lean proteins including skinless, white-meat poultry (i.e. chicken breast), bison, pork loin, and leaner cuts of beef. Additionally, when you purchase organic meat and poultry, there’s little risk of toxins, chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
In addition to fresh cuts of meat, poultry, and fish, there’s another option available. This will help you get optimal amounts of protein in your diet.
Protein Powder Supplements
Without the necessary daily intake of clean, high-protein foods, you need to supplement your diet with an alternative source. In fact, one-third of adults over age 50 fail to meet the daily recommended allowance for protein intake.17
One way to ensure ample amounts of protein in your diet is with a quality protein powder. I’ve talked before about plant-based protein, whey protein powders, and what you should avoid in this article. Now let’s look at the differences between fish and beef protein powders.
Fish Protein Powders
Fish powder does contain proteins, fats, and amino acids. Yet, there are some problems, including the quality of the source. Unlike marine protein powders from seaweed and algae, fish protein powder comes from discarded parts including fish heads and dorsal fins. The protein content depends on raw materials, additives, and moisture content — it may only be 65% protein!18
In addition, these protein powders usually have a distinctly fishy taste! The lingering fishy taste after creating the protein hydrolysate is because of the fat in fish. That fat carries the most flavor, and is nearly impossible to eliminate from fish protein powder.19
Further, the fat in fish is prone to oxidation (a degradation process), which can result in a rancid flavor.20 Even so, fish protein powder can be incorporated into fish cakes or soup, though it won’t be good in smoothies.
Fish protein is also available in capsule form. Though capsules don’t require any preparation and are convenient for travel, each capsule tends to contain little protein. For example, it takes at least 32 fish protein capsules to equal one scoop of my Paleo Protein!
Hydrolyzed Beef Protein
When you’re looking for a protein powder with essential amino acids, I recommend turning to protein from mammals. Although whey protein also comes from mammals, I advocate hydrolyzed beef protein. It contains higher amounts of amino acids that are more readily absorbed by the body than raw or cooked meat.
The best beef protein powder to support long-term, optimal health meets these requirements:
- No gluten or dairy
- No sugar or artificial sweeteners
- No additives, preservatives, dyes, or other toxic ingredients
- Contains all nine essential amino acids
Unlike some proteins from plants and animals, unflavored hydrolyzed beef protein is also completely flavorless. This makes it a versatile addition to your diet.
I went five years without enjoying a protein smoothie because I couldn’t find a powder that met my needs. I finally decided enough was enough and created The Myers Way® Paleo Protein Powders! My Paleo Protein powders are sourced from grass-fed cattle. These cattle are never given unnecessary drugs such as antibiotics or hormones.
My powders are available in several delicious flavors including Vanilla Bean, Double Chocolate, Mocha Latte, and Salted Caramel. Each contains 21 grams of protein per serving. I also offer an Unflavored option, which contains a whopping 26 grams of protein per serving.
You don’t have to settle for a protein supplement with sub-par nutritional value, inflammatory ingredients, and a terrible taste. The Myers Way® Paleo Proteins are delicious! Best of all, they can help you get the many health benefits of a protein-rich diet.