Meat vs Plant

Written by: Elizabeth Beattie, UofA

There are pros and cons to diets that include meat and pros and cons to plant based diets. The difficulty with generalizing the differences to compare pros and cons, is that the diets can vary based on the individuals’ resources, cooking ability, location, and financial capabilities. As well as, their knowledge on nutrition, food distribution, food sources, and ingredients.

When done well, eating meat can be a healthy option for an individual. Lean red meat, white- meat poultry, fish, and eggs, when cooked and shopped for correctly, are generally low in saturated fats, and instead have healthy fats, and provide an adequate amount of sodium, instead of too much. They are excellent sources of protein and are nutrient dense due to the vitamins and minerals they contain.

These foods have:

  • Long-chain omega 3 unsaturated fats (healthy fats), and niacin which help with brain and body function and maintain LDL levels, which is good cholesterol, decreasing bad cholesterol levels, helping to avoid heart attacks and other diseases. (note: eggs are very low in Niacin, practically none, compared to the others)

  • Selenium which helps to keep joints and the immune system healthy. Eggs also have vitamin A, which also aids in this.

  • Phosphorus and calcium content keeps bones healthy.

  • Chicken contains vitamin B5 and pantothenic acid which has a calming effect on the nerves.

  • Lean Red Meat, fish, and eggs contain vitamin D (there’s a little in chicken), which most people are deficient in. They also have high amounts of iron.

  • Lean red meat and eggs have high levels of B-12 and zinc.

  • Lean red meat and fish contain antioxidants.

When including meat into you diet it is important to know:

  • White-fleshed fish are the most lean, so are best for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels (cod, tilapia, halibut, etc) but they have less vitamin D.

  • Egg whites have more protein than the yolk and less fat and calories.

  • When cooking meat only use oil and butter in moderate or small quantities

  • Clean chicken with lemon juice, vinegar, and hot water, to rid it of toxins. Also, remove the skin of chicken.

  • Boiling chicken is the healthiest method. But grilling, baking, and barbecuing can be just fine if the amount of oil and butter is limited and the meat isn’t too charred.

There are various reasons why people eat a plant based diet, and some people have one reason or a combination of multiple. Sometimes the main motivation to eat plant based is to avoid unhealthy ingredients and additives that can often be in meals with meats, such as saturated fats, and high amounts of sodium. Many people also want to avoid toxins in the meats and things like antibiotics, which are sometimes a part of farming practices, depending on where the meat is bought/ sourced from. When a plant based diet is well structured it includes complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and complete proteins. Examples of complete proteins provided by food combinations are; hummus and pita, peanut butter on whole grain toast, and beans with rice.

Because a plant based diet requires protein to come from grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, instead of animal products, that causes the diet to include a wider variety of nutrient rich foods. Some of these foods are often used less, or not used at all in a meat based diet. Below is a list of protein dense foods with high nutrient value that are often used in plant based diets. These foods contain many vitamins and minerals which help the body grow, function, and maintain itself.

  • Whole grains, buckwheat, sprouted grains (Ezekiel bread)

  • Contains potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium.

  • High in fiber, which helps with digestion and weight control.

  • Seeds (especially: Pumpkin, Hemp, Chia)

  • Loaded with Iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and antioxidants.

  • Contains Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and B-Vitamins.

  • Has fiber and healthy fats lower risk of heart disease by aiding in digestion and lowering HDL, and maintaining LDL.

  • Nuts (especially: Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, brazilian, macadamia, pecans)

  • Contain Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin A.

  • Has iron, magnesium, biotin, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, manganese, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine.

  • Has fiber and healthy fats lower risk of heart disease by aiding in digestion and lowering HDL, and maintaining LDL.

  • Beans and Legumes (especially: kidney, soybeans, lentils, black, chickpeas, peas, pinto)

  • Rich in folate, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, thiamine, copper, riboflavin.

  • Contains Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C, Vitamin K.

  • High in fiber, which helps with digestion and weight control.

Usually, a plant based diet includes more vegetables and fruits than a meat based diet, unless those eating meat add the necessary amount of vegetables and fruit to their meals, and focus on portioning their plate to do so. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and antioxidants and so they are crucially beneficial to the body.

In conclusion, the comparison between meat based diets and plant based diets is complex because a lot of factors about each diet can vary, depending on the individual, and that needs to be considered. Is the meat eater eating a reasonable portion of meat alongside vegetables? Where is their meat sourced from, and what farming practices are used? Is the person living plant based making sure they consume enough complete proteins so that their body is strong and their hunger is satisfied? Are they eating healthy carbohydrates or processed ones because it’s cheaper? (They have to budget for plant based proteins which are more expensive than meat). It is unfortunate that things like money and location affect the quality of these diets, but they do, and it is important to be aware of.


Reference these articles for more information:

Lipton, Beth. (June 30, 2021). The Healthiest Ways to Cook Meat. Very Well Fit.

Hu, David. (October 22, 2015). How Red Meat Can ‘Beef Up’ Your Nutrition. Food Insight.

Rajathe. (January 27, 2020). Health and Nutrition From White Meat. Version Weekly.

Marengo, Katherine. (October 9, 2019). Everything You Need to Know about Eggs. Medical News Today.

PETA. (March 12, 2021). 11 Complete Protein Sources That Every Vegas Should Know About.

Tello, Monique. (November 29, 2018). Eat More Plants, Fewer animals. Harvard Health Blog.

Lawler, Moira. (January 17, 2020) 9 Scientific Benefits of Following a Plant-Based Diet. Everyday Health.

Corleone, Jill. (February 12, 2019). The Statistics of Vegetarians Vs Meat-Eaters. Livestrong.

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