There are A TON of opinions about consuming animal and plant protein.

Here’s my word of guidance: Listen to your own body and do what works for YOU. If you choose to consume meat/poultry/seafood/dairy, take the time to learn where it comes from and the impact on the planet so you can do so responsibly and consciously.

We all know how quickly diet fads come and go, and guidelines change. You know what changes too? Your body. Your activity levels. Your needs change over your lifetime and depending on the season, too.

Let’s talk ANIMAL protein first, which means we’re talking about a once living creature before it landed on your plate: beef, pork, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey, venison, bison, fish, shrimp, scallops, etc. Animal bi-products include: eggs and dairy, like yogurt, cheese, milk.

  • If you choose to eat meat, BE PICKY here. If you must allocate your grocery budget to the one area where quality is the utmost importance, this one is it. If you can’t right now, I recommend eating less meat and more vegetarian protein sources (see below). Yes, choosing to eat grass-fed/grass pastured products will cost you more money. We can pay now or pay later.


  • Factory Farmed vs. Pasture Raised: Animals farmed in a factory vs. animals raised on pasture in their natural environments have significantly different outcomes on the planet and our health. Consistently consuming poor quality meat/poultry from animals that come from these factory farmed environments create burden in our bodies and have a direct correlation to chronic disease. They’re inflammatory, often laden with growth hormones and antibiotics. Whatever this animal is eating, we’re eating too. So if their feed is from genetically modified grains, industrial waste products, candy, and contains arsenic — is that really what we want in our bodies too?


  • Quality grass-fed eggs and meat can actually be ANTI-inflammatory. They are lower in fat, higher in omega 3s, vitamin E, B vitamins, beta carotene, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The source matters. Eggs from hens who are free to graze on pasture get more sunshine and thus their eggs are 6x higher in vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement. The nutrition profile on grass-pastured food in quite impressive. Read more here for those health benefits. 


  • Choose animal protein from a source you can identify, preferably a local farm, that is sustainable and has humane practices. Or, purchase from your local store and look for grass-fed, grass pastured for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Prefer wild caught for fish over farm raised. If you don’t see the farm origin, put it back. A lot of chicken is processed in China and shipped back here… yikes!


  • AVOID purchasing meat from animals raised in conventional feed lots and on factory farms. If it’s not labeled as outlined above, you can bet it’s conventionally raised. The cheaper price tag will also be an indicator. Have you seen the movie Food Inc? Give it a watch if you haven’t. If this is unfamiliar ground for you knowing the difference between meat from a quality, small scale farm source vs. one from a factory farm, seriously watch that movie. Or, dare to do a web search for images for CAFO, factory farming, feedlot… and ask yourself if you are comfortable eating meat from these sources. It blows my mind this it’s actually permitted.


  • Buy local as often as possible, from farmers who: 1) provide humane and natural environments for their animals like access to the outdoors, sunshine, grass, room to roam, 2) do not give antibiotics, growth hormones, feed consisting of GMO corn and soy — which is not a natural diet, for any one or any thing, and 3) focus on nourishing and rebuilding the soil, not depleting it. These farms are healthier and more sustainable for humans and our planetConventional feedlots are not.


  • Animal protein can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. I recommend meat never be the center piece of our plates though. Remember vegetables are the true rock stars on our plates. Consider a palm size serving or ¼ of your plate as a general guide for protein. And know that there is protein in plants, too!


  • Gratitude. This is something that has stuck with me ever since culinary school, from de-boning a whole chicken in class to skinning a still-warm, recently slaughtered goat at farm school. This animal was once ALIVE. Its life is giving nourishment to yours and mine. It’s important to be aware of this and honor this. When I cook with or eat meat, I often take a few seconds to close my eyes, to pause, and thank this animal for its life. Most of America would think that’s strange. But you know, I think it’s strange that we often buy our shoes with more care.


Local Farmer Robert Greenlaw of Earth’s Echo Farm shares his advice for consumers:

“Figure out what is important to them, be that local sourcing, regenerative farming practices, animal welfare, feed quality or ingredients that they want to avoid.  Just taking that step to acknowledge what’s important to you will help narrow your search options.
Next would be to look beyond labels and certifications.  Most small farms won’t have them and there’s much to seek out from these artisan producers.  If you find a farm that piques your interest then have an honest conversation with the farmers that represent.  Just as bedside manner is important when you select a doctor, you also want to make sure you like and get a feeling of trust when dealing with the source of what fuels your body.  Farmers love to talk about their products, methods, etc. and should be happy to explain anything that might be unclear.”


BOTTOM LINE: If you eat meat, I encourage you to know where it came from, to choose a quality and sustainable source, eat in moderation, and to eat with gratitude. Take a moment to assess how much meat you’re eating. If it’s on the higher end, consider filling up your plate with more fiber and colorful veggies. And lean into more plant-based protein options.


Plant-based protein:

The top sources are beans, including lima, black, azuki, cannellini, garbanzo, edamame (tofu, tempeh), lentils, whole grains like brown rice, wild rice, steel cut oats; seed grains like quinoa and millet; nuts and seeds and their butter.

Mushrooms and leafy greens have protein, too!

Consider some of the following combinations to construct a protein rich, plant-based meal. Ask yourself, can I add nuts like cashews, crushed almonds, pecans, walnuts to this? Or seeds like hemp seed, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin seeds for extra crunch, fat, and protein?

Here are a few combinations to try for a more balanced meal and adequate plant-based protein intake:

  • Squash + lentils/beans + vegetables
  • Brown rice + lentils/beans + vegetables
  • Beans + brown rice/quinoa/millet + vegetables + hemp seed, toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Brown rice + vegetables + fried egg + sesame seeds
  • Steel cut oats + almond/peanut butter, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax meal, pistachios, dried cherries
  • Bean soup + a scoop of whole grain or seed grain + dollop of Greek yogurt + crushed almonds
  • Tempeh or tofu + vegetable stirfry or roasted served over quinoa + chopped nuts on top
  • Stuffed portabellas + vegetables + goat cheese + pine nuts


TIP: Not everyone digests beans well. This goes back to listening to your body. But do make sure you properly prepare dried beans by soaking them in water for 6-8 hours or overnight. Rinse well. Add a 2-3″ stick of kombu seaweed to the pot during cooking and fish it out before serving. This goes a long way to remove some of the phytic acid and gas-causing compounds; the kombu also imparts a load of minerals and tenderizes the beans making them more digestible.


Check out these recipes:

Lively Lentil Soup by Heidi Swanson – serve with roasted squash of choice for a balanced meal.

Marinated Peanut Tempeh by Minimalist Baker – add these to any stirfried veggies

Crispy Miso Chickpeas Bowls with Garlic Sesame Dressing by Minimalist Baker

Smoky Vegetarian Red Beans & Rice by Vegetarian Ventures

Vegetarian Pad Thai by Well Plated — peanuts, eggs, and edamame are a delicious protein combination!

Date-sweetened Steel Cut Oats by Pure Roots Nutrition – add a scoop of almond butter to your oats or a hard boiled egg on the side

If you’re a vegetarian – use these combinations and enjoy a variety of plant-based protein. You do NOT have to eat tofu every day. Variety is important, ok?

If you’re a meat eater, or an omnivore, mix it up with animal protein-based meals and plant-based meals, too!

Whether you eat meat or not, the goal is to:


Michael Pollan makes nutrition so simple here. Remember this when in doubt.

If you’d like guidance on how to balance your meals and eat in a way that’s right for you, check out my 1-1 Nutrition Consulting Services.