Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 May

Top 10 Best & Worst Protein Sources (vegetarians take note)

SteakYesterday, I discussed protein a little bit, and it’s such an important topic that I think it deserves its own Tuesday 10 (Read all Tuesday 10 columns here).

In all the debates this year about sugar (carbohydrates) and hydrogenated oil (fat), we forget that protein warrants consideration as well. The wrong proteins in the diet will quickly sabotage optimal health.

It helps to understand that protein is a macronutrient. What we call “protein” is, in fact, a family of amino acid molecules. When grouped together in various combinations we get proteins. There’s no protein molecule hanging out in that hamburger; rather, the animal tissue is made of many different amino acid building blocks. Protein is just a catch-all term we use. This is why vegetarians won’t keel over as people once feared. However, that doesn’t validate the popular myth that plant protein is equivalent or even superior to animal protein. Plant protein and animal protein is not equivalent, for several reasons:

  • Animal protein is more complete and contains more essential amino acids – the amino acids we can’t synthesize in our bodies and thus require in our diets for optimal health – than plant protein.
  • Contrary to popular belief, dietary animal protein is consistently associated with greater bone mineral density and fewer bone fractures (PDF), while dietary plant protein is associated with lower bone mineral density. Animal protein may increase calcium excretion, but it increases calcium absorption to a greater degree, resulting in a net positive effect on bone health.
  • Plant proteins often come with plant toxins, while animal protein is generally harmless. That’s probably why plant protein consumption has been linked to increased disease risk and animal protein consumption has little to no effect. Heck, the plant proteins often are toxins themselves, as with the case of wheat gluten.
  • It takes more calories to get adequate amounts of protein on a vegetarian diet. Living on beans and tofu increases the amount of carbohydrates in one’s diet significantly (and unnecessarily).

I hope no one believes that anymore.

Here are my ten ideal sources of protein, and their popular but inferior counterparts.

1. Winner: Grass-Fed Beef

Loser: Grain-Fed Beef

The average cow is raised on cheap grain that will kill it after about six months (they’re conveniently slaughtered before this happens – but not always). Hardly something I want to put in my body. Grass-fed, organic beef won’t make the vegetarians happy, but this beef is rich in beneficial fatty acids that are missing from the factory-raised cattle. It’s cleaner, healthier, more flavorful, and richer in nutrients. And grass-fed beef is typically raised in humane conditions. If you eat beef and can get your hands on it, grass-fed is a must. It’s getting quite easy to find these days, but you can order online from many outlets as well.

2. Winner: Pastured Chicken

Loser: Regular frozen chicken

No comparison. Did you know chicken has flavor? Yeah, bizarre, I know. Chicken raised properly on pasture and allowed to eat bugs and grasses (not shoved by the cluckload into dirty factories) is rich in EFAs and is one of the best sources of protein available. Also, if you cover a whole one in salt, pepper, and garlic, stuff it full of herbs, rub it down with grass-fed butter or olive oil, and place it in a preheated oven, you’ve got one of the greatest dinners in the history of the world.

3. Winner: Wild Salmon

SalmonLoser: farmed salmon

Fish is healthy, right? Don’t even bother patting yourself on the back for eating salmon if it’s from a farm. Farmed salmon is produced in a way that’s the seaside equivalent of a chicken factory. As a result, the fish are often sick and infected. They’re fed cheap feed that does not yield the desirable omega-3-rich flesh. They’re miserable and full of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Stick with wild only. Most restaurants use farmed salmon, so you have to get a little aggressive about this.

Notice a trend here with my emphasis on good fats in protein foods? Source makes a huge difference in the quality of protein you get. Meat is – or was – a very valuable food because it’s so dense in nutritious fat and protein. What an efficient, rich source of energy! Helpfully, our modern factories have eliminated the nutritional value and left us with weak, flabby, carcinogenic, diseased patties and drumsticks. Hey, thanks, guys. (Although we consumers don’t get off easy: maybe if we ate less…)

4. Winner: Tuna

Loser: fish sticks and popcorn shrimp

I don’t think I need to go into this one.

5. Winner: Pastured Eggs

Loser: egg substitute and/or regular eggs

If eggs were meant to be eaten as mechanically-separated, low-fat, chemically-altered whites in a carton, the chickens would have done it by now. But an egg is a chick in the making. It’s rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins, and – for the calories – a lot of protein. Doubly so if your eggs come from pastured hens. Things like Egg Beaters are the result of food manufacturers exploiting fears based on grossly inaccurate health information. There’s nothing healthy about such unnatural products.

6. Winner: Greek Yogurt

Loser: Low-fat, sugar-sweetened yogurt

No comparison. The Greek stuff is richer, fattier, more nutritious and lower in sugar. Again, when choosing an animal protein source, choose one that also provides valuable fats to maximize nutrition. Don’t go for the conventional animal products that are high in chemicals, hormones, bad fats, and sugars. Yogurt isn’t a staple of my diet, but if I eat it it’s certainly not a plastic cup of sugar-infused strawberry dessert.

7. Winner: Shellfish

ShellfishLoser: Deep-fried and breaded clams and oysters

When anthropologists search ancient human coastal settlements, they invariably find piles and piles of discarded shells. Our ancestors weren’t gathering shellfish to make jewelry. They weren’t hoarding pearls. They were gathering them because shellfish, including clams, oysters, mussels, and snails, are sources of animal protein that also happen to be full of iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, omega-3s, and other marine nutrients that we need to thrive. And, since farmed shellfish are raised just like wild shellfish – in the ocean feeding off microscopic lifeforms – without any junk food input from humans, farmed shellfish are just as good as wild. Limit or avoid shellfish farmed in China, however, as the waters there run a little more polluted than other waters.

8. Winner: Whey Protein Isolate

Loser: Whey Protein Concentrate

I know, I know – I just got done saying how important it is to eat whole food protein that comes with other nutrients. So what the heck is whey protein isolate, a processed protein powder that’s anything but “real, whole food,” doing on this list? Ultimately, I’m about results. I’m about food with proven health benefits as shown through science, and the body of literature supporting whey protein isolate as a worthy source of protein is impossible to ignore:

Since whey protein isolate is higher in protein (the stuff that’s giving all the health benefits) than whey protein concentrate, eat the former if you can get it.

9. Winner: Liver (from grass-fed or pastured animals)

Loser: Tofu

Though it’s known primarily as nature’s multivitamin because it contains ample amounts of vitamin A (important for bone health and testosterone production), copper (important for heart health), choline (important for liver health), folate (important for brain and fetal health), and B-vitamins (important for almost everything), people tend to forget that liver is a rich source of protein, too. It might look weird to compare it to tofu, but since nothing else really compares to liver – and tofu is really easy and really fun to pick on – I went with the soy-based meat alternative.

10. What’s your favorite protein source?

Give me a shout, Apples. What protein do you favor? What have I left out? (To comment, simply click on Comments below to log in to the blog forum, or proceed directly to the forum.)

Note: “Cows’ milk is for baby cows,” the saying goes. You’ll notice I left cheese and milk out of this list. While I like a good aged gouda, I wanted to make this list as all-inclusive as possible – and potentially allergenic dairy proteins are not suitable for everyone. Raw dairy is healthy and enjoyable for many people who can tolerate it, but generally, I think quality meat works better for more people than quality milk. Cheese, the fermentation of which denatures some of the problematic components while increasing beneficial nutrients, is generally better tolerated than milk, especially aged cheeses like gouda. Cream and butter are fine in cooking (or coffee), because I don’t fear saturated fat, but I am concerned about folks who substitute nutritious meat with highly-processed cheese.

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m totally glad I found this post. I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian or vegan for a while now because of many annoying health issues I’ve been having. But after doing a lot of research on foods and actually eating like a strict vegan with only raw whole foods I thought how in the hell is this going to be possible? Started researching recipes. Some looked decent but the rest looked horrible. lol. So figured this wasn’t going to work out as I planned. After a while I was bummed out and suffering with certain medical problems and suddenly realized that many of my symptoms are related somehow to allergic reactions. It was obvious! Skin problems, my various lymphs would swell up sometimes, Weird skin rashes, itching, stomach cramps, feeling bloated, fatigued, restless, blah blah blah…..which turns out are all possible Gluten, Soy, and/or Dairy allergies! I now believe that is the main culprit of my problems along with processed other crap. So I don’t truly need to go Raw Vegan all the way but just focus on avoiding suspicious types of food I may be allergic to.

    I will probably need to do more research and self testing by process of elimination and addition or actually go get tested somewhere. Not only does gluten, soy, and dairy, have the potential to spark an allergic reaction but so do certain nuts and oils. Excess sugars and caffeine are also not very good for you but I still like to have them in small adequate amounts like my herbal smoking. lol. And pesticides on my herbs? No thanks buddy! Anyways with all of these possible allergies to foods, what choices am I left with other that to eat the purest forms of raw whole foods topped with fresh quality meat and seafood? Definitely not many other logical answers other than nutritionally starving myself to death. It would be near impossible with the selections available today (at least in my area). The only thing left for me to do is the most logical. Only eat proven nutritional foods given to humans since the beginning of time, and eat them in the most nutritionally balanced meals as possible. I believe fish is the best source of protein. Either way now on its only raw whole vegetables, sometimes cooked veggies :), fruits, and high quality protein for me! Mostly fish but occasionally chicken and beef with the standards stated in this article. I will experiment with adding certain other possible foods I’m allergic to later after I totally get rid of the gluten, soy, and dairy from my diet. Also I’m going to start with the low carb/low sugar approach with the fruits and vegetables unless more sustained energy is needed throughout my days. Looks like I’ll be doing a lot of home cooking and refrain from eating junk for the next 3-6 months to test out this theory.

    If anyone has any suggestions or wants to check in with results, feel free to email me.

    SouthsideDankx wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Contact me off list t h e dot s i r e s at g m a i l dot c o m

      I was vegetarian for many years.

      Annie Sires wrote on May 9th, 2012
  2. ok, no offense, but avoiding “processed sugar, wheat, corn, grain, legumes” seems pretty ‘don’t eat this, don’t eat that’, to me. I can avoid the sugar very well, as I have known it was bad for inflammation for while. But as a pescatarian who only eats seafood a couple times a month, I really love my legumes, and, wheat? ..who doesn’t love sprouted wheat bread? Why are these things ‘poisonous’?

    RaShi wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • You’re right, it does “seem” “DET,DET” however, factor in these two things: 1) There are so many foods in the modern diet that have been dropped (nopales anyone?, chayote squash?) in favor of cheap and easy to grow. I eat so much more that the “lose, lose” idea of dieting just doesn’t fit. I had a BAS: Big Ass Salad for lunch: 3 cups of spring lettuce, shaved carrots, cucumber slices, lox, hard boiled eggs 3 from my own chickens, sliced beef with fat 2 cups, pico de gallo (at least a cup) with a liberal dose of home made oil and vinegar dressing. 2) Legumes and grains are a modern invention and a poison. Sprouted wheat bread is still poisonous: it causes mineral malabsorption and has phytic acid in spades.

      Grains and legumes cause the problems we associate with the “modern diet” I was a pescatarian, also. The reality is that while I still would love to eat a big piece of chocolate cake, it’s not for me. I eat more now than I did before but I keep it to “caveman” food: meats, vegies, fruit. And while some do argue that modern fruit and vegies hold little resemblance to historical, the reality is that the nutrition contained within is far better than wheat grains and legumes.

      Annie Sires wrote on May 9th, 2012
  3. Well, the best protein you can take, is taking them from amino acid, from liquid yeast. Also B complex from the same liquid yeast. There are other things you can benefit from liquid yeast. Do your research.

    Miguel wrote on May 11th, 2012
  4. The grain fed beef thing is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. As someone who has a degree in animal science which has allowed me to study all stages of beef cattle production, saying that beef cattle are fed poorly is far from the truth. Beef cattle are fed highly nutritional feeds to ensure that they gain weight and are at peak health when slaughtered cattle who are sick or unhealthy would never be slaughtered for food consumption. The rations of nutrients and minerals within their feed is calculated to ensure precise amounts of nutrients are met. It is very difficult and can only be practicle in certain geographical areas to feed cattle only grass. Most likely they will not be getting the proper nutrients only eating grass. I am from Texas and at certain times of the year if we only fed our cattle grass they would die because we have none. It sounds good to someone who is not knowledgable in this area but I can assure you cattle fed grain before slaughter are getting fed much better than most people eat.

    Whitney wrote on May 15th, 2012
  5. Winner: Bukkake
    Losers: Regular Blowjob & Watersports

    dave wrote on May 16th, 2012
  6. Protein foods are essential for the growing children from the age of 1 to 18 years of age, being the growth of the human being will takes place at this time only. The pregnant women requires more protein, the athletes for the more stamina and body builder for their developing the muscles in the body.

    proteinfoods wrote on May 17th, 2012
  7. you all have been brain washe by the protein myth. Eating more than 60 grams of protein a day will only cause your kidneys to blow. There are a good amount of bodybuilders out there ( i also do it this way) wich consume no more than 60 grams of protein and build muscle easier and nicer. Carbs and fats fuel your recovery and water. Here is a website where the nutritional info is shown. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beef-products/8001/2
    The score of beef protein is pathetic. Besides the iron and general minerals are very low.
    In fact beans scores more than twice than the score of beef, specially black beans.

    Nicolas wrote on May 18th, 2012
    • From the website you quoted: Nutrition Data’s Opinion, Completeness Score™, Fullness Factor™, Rating, Estimated Glycemic Load (eGL), and Better Choices Substitutions™ are editorial opinions of NutritionData.com, given without warranty, and are not intended to replace the advice of a nutritionist or health-care professional. Nutrition Data’s opinions and ratings are based on weighted averages of the nutrient densities of those nutrients for which the FDA has established Daily Values, and do not consider other nutrients that may be important to your health or take into account your individual needs. Consequently, Nutrition Data’s higher-rated foods may not necessarily be healthier for you than lower-rated ones. All foods, regardless of their rating, have the potential to play an important role in your diet.

      I would rather have fact than “opinion” especially based on USDA RDA’s which are faulty. Here is the wiki (not the best source but still better than nothing) about RDA which is what Nutrition Data is using for it’s statistics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_Reference_Intake

      If you read the entire site, you will learn that since he’s only talking about the protein sources, he is not talking about sources for other things AND he is also giving reasons, albeit short ones, for NOT using those proteins. Like leptin, phytate, etc.

      So, as a scientist, I’m brainwashed. I hope so, otherwise I would still be 40 lbs heavier, 4 dress sizes larger and still hurting and sick.

      Annie Sires wrote on May 21st, 2012
    • Well, Nicolas, thank you so much for clearing things up for us. I guess I need to take back the 100+ lost pounds, all the bad blood lipids, painful joints, fatty liver, malfunctioning kidneys, and irritable bowel syndrome that all disappeared after I started eating this way. Hmmmm…

      I will say that initially I gained a little but despite that the joint pain was gone long before weight loss took place so no one can tell me that the fact that I lost weight relieved what was long believed to be arthritis pain.

      Once I got my balance of carbs right the weight loss took off. All of my labs are great. I have none of the problems I had before I started eating this way as well as exercising the way it is prescribed here.

      My kidney problems also reversed rather than “blowing” as you stated they should despite the fact that I consume a minimum of 110 grams/protein each day.

      I too used to be a believer that beans and other legumes were good for me along with whole grains, etc. I also don’t feel they are bad to eat on occasion, but not a steady diet of them–I did eat them often and ate very little meat or fat and all I got was sick. Too sick to exercise properly and all I wanted to do was lay around. I was also hungry all the time. I no longer eat that way and haven’t had a bean in many, many months but have had a LOT of beef, chicken, goat, alpaca, fish, quinoa, and seafood. These foods made me feel better and I was able to start exercising again. In essence, I healed myself by eating a Primal diet.

      Perhaps it is you, sir, who are the brainwashed one.

      mila wrote on May 21st, 2012
  8. I like this site a lot but some of the people posting on this site are over the top pretentious, smug and great examples of why vegans, vegetarians, etc get a bad rap (so judgemental of anyone not in complete agreement with you)! Most of the people I know eat chips, lunch meat, lasagna, McDonalds, etc! I consider a person to be trying hard by eating primarily veggies, lean meats, fruits and limited starches. I’m glad people spend time analyzing nutrition so I don’t have to… but I don’t get quite so fired up about it. Food is amazing and in moderation we should enjoy what we like and what makes us happy. So I’m going to have some cheese and bread once in a while. Don’t deprive yourself and live life in fear of cancer. The air around you probably contains more carcinogens than a steak in the long run…enjoy life.

    Emily wrote on May 19th, 2012
  9. My yogurt is homemade:
    Take 1/2 quarter of whole milk
    Boil it, let it rest till you can put your hand on it and you don’t feel the difference (same temperature of body)
    Add 2-3spoonfuls of yogurt (with active cultures, danone plain works, greek is perfect, anyone that says it has live cultures)
    Leave it 24 hours
    It will beat any yogurt bought in the store in taste, content of additives, sugar

    WildGrok wrote on May 19th, 2012
  10. Farmed salmon from Norway is still an excellent source of Omega 3 even if it may have less of it than some wild salmon.

    A single study contributed to the idea that wild salmon from the Americas was less contaminated and healthier than farmed salmon from around the world. A larger, later study had different results.

    But people hear “wild” or “natural” and simply wish to believe it is better, when that is not always the case.

    Spoon wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  11. I’d just like to add that we should look at all foods we are eating – everything these days is cultivated in the same plots of land. Crops are not rotated and even putting manure into the soil will not put all the nutrients back into the ground. All the goodness in our foods is being lost more and more year after year. Just a thought. Not to mention everything is packaged in plastic or other packinging which all give off some form of chemical. No wonder cancer is such an epidemic. Nothing is natural anymore. Maybe other countries are different i have only live in South Africa and Australia and both are the same: unhealthy in all aspects.

    Lauren Corbitt wrote on May 28th, 2012
  12. what about hemp? It is a vegan protein source that has omega-3’s!!!

    tracey wrote on May 31st, 2012
  13. Great and informative information, I would like to get more ideas on alternative sources of protein and chat with others who are experiencing this. I have kidney disease and need to increase my protein intake so not to lose muscle mass and energy..however I would love to eliminate most meats in the process. OPOen to ideas!

    Diane Siggson wrote on June 2nd, 2012
  14. There is nothing as known as Greek yogurt it is well known Turkish yogurt

    jason wrote on June 4th, 2012
  15. Quinoa is NOT a whole gain! Quinoa is a SEED.

    Tripl xXx wrote on June 5th, 2012
  16. Hi, I never paid THAT much attention to what I eat, and I don’t get sick because of it, neither do I get fatter…
    I am not trying to brag or showoff, I am really concerned about this fact. I am really thin I am 68KG = 149lb , and am 178cm = 5’10”. Is it normal to be this much unaffected by what you eat.
    Oh Btw, I eat a lot.

    Hassan wrote on June 8th, 2012
  17. I can’t get over how bad grass-fed beef tastes. I’ve tried Grassland Beef which is god awful, Wholefoods beef which is even worse, Morris, Lasater, and others. Does anyone know of ANY ranch that sells grass fed beef that actually tastes good? I’m think of trying Niman ranch because they finish off the feeding cycle with grain, which might make it taste better. Anyone have an opinion?

    Chris wrote on June 10th, 2012
  18. Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you build muscles
    😀

    Mike wrote on June 13th, 2012
  19. Wild shellfish like crab, clams, oysters or scallops!

    jaime wrote on June 13th, 2012
  20. Lawd these comments are all over the place.. just do your research people. what’s good for you is not always good for the next.. of course this article can’t put in everything you guys are saying. it would never end. good luck and find what works for you

    cagomea wrote on June 15th, 2012
  21. I would have put down avocados in first place as your body will absorb more protein from an avocado than from a giant piece of beef. However totally agree on the fact that you need to get organic and wild food as you won’t get the nutrients otherwise.

    Clooninator wrote on July 3rd, 2012
  22. Each to their own but I think this list is based more on a person opinion than scientific fact. (which is what I thought this webpage was relating to).

    Darren wrote on July 5th, 2012
  23. Whats up with lentils? Anyone?

    Susie wrote on July 5th, 2012
  24. however well informed it seems no one can agree on ANYTHING

    nev wrote on July 5th, 2012
  25. You left out hempseeds! yum…complete protein, perfect balance of omega 3 6 9. doesn’t need pesticides…perfect in smoothies, sprinkled over soup or salads or made into milk. Raw. Vegan. Good for the environment. Good for the soul… Hell, Hemp products could even solve the world’s energy crisis if it weren’t for the petroleum industry.

    michaela wrote on July 9th, 2012
  26. Though it has become unfashionable to count calories, with 50% of us in the U.S. fat enough to impact our health, it

    shouldn’t be.

    With that in mind, my five favorite sources of protein are:

    Pork loin: 3.97 cal per gram of protein
    Egg whites: 4.44 cal per gram of protein
    95/5 grass fed ground beef: 5.15 cal per gram of protein
    Salmon: 5.26 cal per gram of protein
    Protein powder: 5.38 cal per gram of protein (and of course this varies by brand, etc.)

    To contrast, you have to eat 15 calories of kidney beans to get 1 gram of protein.

    Plants are awesome, and they comprise approximately 70% of my daily calories. But for protein, I like animals.

    Joanie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  27. the body doesn’t need meat, that is the most bullshit statement I’ve ever heard. it is cruel and disgusting to eat anthers flesh. have compassion and be healthier without animals on your plate.

    debera wrote on July 14th, 2012
    • Debra, why are you even here on this site? Clearly you do not not subscribe to a primal philosophy, which is totally fine – to each their own. However, since this is very obviously a site and forum for those either interested in a primal lifestyle or already living it (and THRIVING from it!), why don’t you keep your prosthelytizing to yourself???

      Shantess wrote on July 14th, 2012
  28. hemp is a great vegetarian source – you can get hemp powder and add it to smoothies. Also avocados aren’t to shabby with 4 grams of protein per fruit and their protein is also complete. chia seeds boast omega3’s and provide protein which is also complete. they are also easy to add to salads and smoothies – or use it to make a healthy pudding. Spirulina has 16grams per one ounce serving, again it is also complete.

    rachel wrote on July 18th, 2012
  29. I don’t think he knows what he is talking about. So the source matters, fair enough (and very true). But “milk isn’t suitable for human intake” (paraphrased) isn’t a valid statement. Milk is not only a great source of protein, but also good fats, calcium, and other nutrients that are hard to find elsewhere. I’m sorry I read this article; I was almost convinced into spending twice as much on my beef steak.

    k4j98 wrote on July 18th, 2012
  30. After reading two pages of comments I would like to thank you all for confirming that no one knows what we should eat!
    From the last 27 years of fighting weight and health issues I have been told at one time or another that I should not eat: dairy, meat, grains or many vegetables. That leaves me with fruit and nuts. Now someone is going to comment that I shouldn’t eat fruit and nuts together.
    For what it’s worth, my grandmother was a vegetarian, followed a low sodium diet, grew all her own veggies during the summer, never smoked or drank, had health problems all her life and died of cancer.
    Oh well, thanks for all the info.

    Tracy wrote on July 19th, 2012
  31. I wonts to know side efects of protin

    Mulubrhan wrote on July 21st, 2012
  32. sprouted green gram

    jik wrote on July 24th, 2012
  33. actually i wanted to know the name of the proteins to gain weight that can be taken without doing gyming.
    if there is anything such type of weight gainer please let me know and the price for the same.
    thanking you.

    prem wrote on July 25th, 2012

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