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Beans vs. Meat: Which is the Better Protein Source?

Are beans or meat the better protein source? Here’s a breakdown of the cost, nutrition, and other details on these proteins!

If you’ve ever done any research on a healthy diet, you’ve probably seen protein come up many times. It’s one of the 3 main macronutrients and play an important role in weight loss and muscle building.

You can find protein in a ton of different foods, with two main ones being beans and meat. For the most part, we do eat enough protein, although sometimes we could give our diets a quick check-in on our protein intake.

Both sides argue over which is better- beans or meat- so what’s the right answer?

A closeup of dried black beans and cooked chicken breast. Text says "Beans vs. meat"

The short answer is, both beans and meat have benefits. Meat has more protein, but beans have fiber, which is another important nutrient for our bodies.

In this post, I’m going into detail on the differences between beans and meat. And for simplicity’s sake, I’m comparing chicken breast to black beans, which are excellent sources of protein.

I WON’T be talking about the environmental impact, although I know that’s a big issue for a lot of people. I’m only going into the nutrition of both of them.

A cooked and sliced chicken breast on a wooden cutting board

Nutrition information

Chicken breast

  • Calories: 165
  • Fat: 3.6 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Protein: 31 grams

Black beans

  • Calories: 132
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 24 grams
  • Fiber: 9 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams

As you can see above, chicken has more protein for the amount of calories. Protein content is usually MUCH higher in lean meats than vegetarian proteins. It also has a little bit of fat, while the beans have none.

Another thing to note is that meat contains Vitamin B, especially B12. And that isn’t present in most vegan products. So if you follow a vegan diet, check with your doctor on ways to get the Vitamin B12 that you need.

Cooked black beans in a bowl

Is the protein in beans the same as meat products?

I’m gonna get nerdy here, but bear with me.

Protein is broken down into amino acids when it’s digested. There are 9 essential amino acids that can’t be made by the body, so we have to get them through food.

Most animal products have all 9 of those essential nutrients, so we can get what we need from eating just that one food. But most plant-based products only have a few of them, so you’ll have to eat some of them together (Not necessarily at the same meal) to get all 9.

For example: Eating a chicken breast will give you a complete protein, but eating just a serving of black beans will not. You’ll need to pair something with the beans- like brown rice- to get a complete protein.

Where does fiber come in?

Fiber is one nutrient that a lot of us don’t get enough of. You most likely do if you’re on a plant-based diet; but a typical omnivore may not eat enough fiber.

Dietary fiber is important for digestion!

  • It keeps us regular in the bathroom
  • Can help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health
  • Can lower the risk of heart disease

Along with a ton of other health benefits. You can get fiber from eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins.

Most animal protein doesn’t have fiber, which is why I recommend eating vegetarian proteins every so often. This is where beans reign superior, because they have a ton of fiber as well as a good amount of protein.

Three grilled chicken breasts on a black background

Cost comparison

Which of these proteins is cheaper? I checked Wal Mart to get the basic prices:

  • Chicken breast: About $3.25 per pound
  • Dried black beans: About $1.48 per pound

The beans are definitely cheaper per pound. But you’ll need to eat a larger amount of beans to get the same amount of protein you would with a chicken breast. Plus I already mentioned you need to pair bean protein with something else to get a complete protein.

Dry beans are also much cheaper than canned beans. They do take awhile to cook though, so sometimes canned beans are more practical.

A small burlap bag on its side, spilling out dried black beans

Which beans have the most protein?

I had to do some research on this, because I thought they were all mostly the same. But it turns out that soy beans (edamame) have a ton of protein!

A 100-gram serving has about 18 grams of protein, compared to the 9 grams in the black beans that I shared above.

The other types of beans are basically a tie, with maybe a one-gram difference between all of them.

Soy beans are more expensive per ounce, but they’re a really good plant-based protein.

For reference, here are some other types of beans, which are still good sources of protein:

  • Kidney beans
  • Fava beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Black-eyed peas
  • White beans
  • Navy beans

Other plant-based protein sources

You can get protein from other sources besides beans! I have a full comparison on my list of high-protein foods, but here are a few good alternative ideas:

  • Tofu: 12 grams
  • Peanut butter: 7 grams
  • Quinoa: 6 grams
  • Brown rice: 3 grams
  • Rolled oats: 5 grams
  • Seitan: 21 grams
  • Chia seeds: 5 grams

Final thoughts

In the end, it’s all about a balanced diet. I choose to eat meat because it’s an excellent source of protein. AND I eat plant-based foods, all of which get me my daily dose of protein.

Don’t worry too much about the exact numbers. Just focus on eating a good variety of foods and colors, and being mindful will make sure you get plenty of protein and all the nutrients you need!

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