Seafood vs Meat: what will give me the most protein?
November 10, 2023
Trying to eat a protein-packed diet? Whether seafood or meat is the best choice will undoubtedly have crossed your mind. Should you be team fish, reeling in the benefits of marine protein, or should chicken or beef be your go-to? It can feel like a meal-planning minefield when you want to be sure you’re making healthy choices for yourself and your family.
In this blog we’re looking at the quantity of protein in different seafood and meat options so that next time you shop, you know which will give you the best bang for your bite. We’re going to focus solely on the nutritional side of the seafood v meat debate, but if you’d like to delve into the environmental impact of farming meat versus farming seafood, take a look here.
Why is protein so important, and where can I find it?
Protein plays several different roles in the body. Our cells need it to grow and repair themselves, and it contributes to the healthy development of muscles and bones. Protein also helps boost immunity and works with the carbohydrates in our diet to maintain steady blood sugar levels and a continuous supply of energy to the body.
When we eat protein, from any source, the body breaks it down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein itself. It then re-assembles those amino acids into whichever type of protein it needs at that specific time. There are more than 20 different amino acids needed in the body, 9 of which – known as essential amino acids – we can’t produce ourselves, which is why we need to eat protein as part of our diet.
Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Plant proteins such as nuts, soya, and legumes (peas, beans and lentils) are also great sources. The recommended amount of protein for an adult to consume per day is 0.75g per kilo of body weight; this averages at around 56g per day for men and 45g per day for women.
Seafood protein vs animal protein: how do they compare?
A note before we look at protein quantities. To gauge the health benefits of a food we need to look not just at the amount of protein it contains, but at what else eating it will put into the body (fat, carbohydrates, fibre etc), to give us a holistic view of that food. So just because something has a high protein level it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy choice.
Meat and seafood are both excellent sources of what’s called complete protein, which means they contain all 10 essential amino acids that need to come from our diets. Where they differ is in the amount of fat, and specifically saturated fat, found within them. Let’s look at a breakdown of nutrients within some common protein sources:
- 100g of farmed Atlantic salmon contains 21.6g of protein, 15.2g of fat and 2g of saturated fat
- 100g of wild trout contains 22.3g of protein, 5.8g of fat and 2.1g of saturated fat
- 100g of blue mussels contain 23.8g of protein, 4.5g of fat and 0.9g of saturated fat
- 100g of skinless, boneless chicken breast contains 19.6g of protein, 2.2g of fat and 0.9g of saturated fat
- 100g of beef mince contains 20.3g of protein, 15.3g of fat and 6.7g of saturated fat
Who knew the humble mussel could pack such a protein punch!
What can we learn from this?
At first glance this comparison tells us two things – that fishy options in general contain more protein than animal products, and that seafood can have much higher levels of fat than lean white meats like chicken. However, this isn’t the full picture.
Farmed seafood in particular tends to have higher fat levels than wild-caught due to the differences in the food they eat. But more fat in the case of fishes like salmon is positive because it means increased levels of Omega 3s fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids are the reason it’s recommended that we eat two portions of oily fish, like salmon, each week; they are considered to be essential to human growth because they contribute to heart health and work to reduce inflammation. Although we need fat in our diets, there isn’t an equivalent benefit of eating the fat found in meat, which is especially prevalent in red meats like beef.
The other elements to consider in this comparison are vitamins and the digestive process. Meat tends to contain iron but very few other vitamins. Salmon provides Vitamin D and calcium, while trout gives us Vitamins A and C plus calcium. Amazingly, the mighty blue mussel provides 16 different vitamins and minerals!
When it comes to digestion, seafood is also easier to digest than animal protein because it has fewer connective tissues, so the gut doesn’t have to work as hard after eating. This lack of connective tissues is why fish flakes easily once it’s cooked!
In conclusion, higher protein levels combined with the presence of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and a range of vitamins suggests that eating seafood is a better overall choice in comparison with meat consumption.
For fish dish inspiration to start adding more seafood to your diet, take a look at our recipe library and follow us on Instagram where we regularly share new seafood recipes and cooking tips. And when you buy your seafood, be sure to look for the ASC label to be confident that your seafood has been raised responsibly; you can find out more about the ASC label here.