Proteins: what food choices to make?

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

In the same way as carbohydrates (slow and fast sugars) and lipids (fats), proteins are nutrients (editor’s note: macronutrients, not to be confused with vitamins, minerals and trace elements, which are micronutrients) it is i.e. the “fuel” used by our body to function on a daily basis. Proteins play many roles within the body. In addition to (secondary) energy supply and a satiety-promoting nature, proteins are involved in many vital biological functions and in particular have a major role in the composition of all human body tissues. It is therefore essential to provide it daily to the body through food, otherwise the latter would be forced to draw on its reserves to ensure its survival.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

That being said, not all protein foods are equal, and it is necessary to be sufficiently informed in order to be able to make the most informed choices possible. Here are some answers regarding the different sources of protein available, as well as the quality criteria guaranteeing sufficient intakes to maintain good health.

Animal proteins and vegetable proteins

The opposition between animal and plant proteins comes up quite recurrently in dietetics (and in nutrition). Above all, and without mentioning the question of dietary beliefs, it is important to keep in mind that balance remains the watchword in these areas. Thus, any excess is, by definition, to be avoided.

Plant proteins

Health authorities have long recommended consuming twice as much animal protein as plant protein (i.e. a ratio of 2/3 to 1/3), animal proteins being generally of better quality than plant proteins).

However, recent recommendations from ANSES (editor’s note: National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) suggest that these ratios could be balanced in the years to come for health reasons. than ecological. Indeed, all populations are now advised to consume more plant proteins (initially weekly), through, among others, legumes and oilseeds. Legumes (lentils, red beans, white beans, peas and other beans) are foods rich in carbohydrates, fiber, but also protein. These proteins are of good quality but do not contain all of the essential amino acids (i.e. the molecules making up the protein), and therefore need to be combined with other foods containing plant proteins, such as for example starchy foods. This combination, well known to vegetarians, makes it possible to obtain “complete” proteins, suffering from no “limiting factor”, and which would therefore be qualitatively comparable to animal proteins.


With exceptions (notably soy, but also certain algae such as spirulina) this observation is also true for most plant proteins, such as oilseeds (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts and other pecans), as well as the pastes resulting from the mixing of these oilseeds (also called butters) such as peanut, hazelnut or almond butters which have the same properties as the latter. These foods nevertheless remain of excellent quality, and represent a promising alternative to animal protein consumption which can sometimes prove excessive or even harmful.

So don’t hesitate to favor these food groups every week, once or twice to start (editor’s note: PNNS 2018-2022 objectives and ANSES recommendations of 2017), and adapt the frequency and quantities according to your needs and your digestive tolerance.

Animal proteins

Animal proteins represent all remaining protein sources, which are, by definition, from the animal kingdom (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products).

Before citing them in a non-exhaustive manner, it should be remembered that the latest recommendations from state health agencies, in correlation with the most recent scientific studies, advise the population to adapt or even limit their consumption of certain sources of protein. animals. The reasons are varied but are essentially due to the presence of other nutrients in these foods (notably lipids and salt), excessive consumption of which promotes the appearance of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases (overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke). to name just a few), but also certain cancers in more serious and extreme cases. This is particularly the case for red meats, of which ANSES recommends consumption not exceeding 500g per week, or around 70g per day (barely the weight of a ground beef steak), but also cold meats ( less than 150g per week, or 25g per day) which, in addition to being very rich in fat, contain very significant quantities of salt. The reasons for these downward trends are also ecological and environmental, so do not hesitate, as far as possible, to encourage the consumption of meats raised locally, and/or from short circuits.

Conversely, it will be advisable to turn to other sources of animal proteins such as fish. Of course, not all fish is equal, but it is still recommended to eat it at least twice a week, one of these portions coming from a particular type of fish called “fatty”.

Indeed, these fish are popular for their richness in omega 3, a fatty acid that helps reduce the risk of the appearance of the pathologies previously mentioned, and which is unfortunately not sufficiently present on the plates of the majority of French people. Be careful though to choose them carefully, it is therefore advisable to prefer small oily fish such as sardines and mackerel (even in cans). Conversely, consider limiting large fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, excessive consumption of which could be toxic due to excessive heavy metal content (or ETM: trace metal element) such as mercury, lead, or arsenic, all extremely harmful to the human body.

Certain labels such as the public eco-label “Sustainable Fishing” guarantee, at a minimum, a certain environmental respect making it possible to mitigate these risks of contamination and should therefore be encouraged. Among these animal proteins, we can also cite eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), food groups which can both be consumed regularly as part of a varied and balanced diet. Again, make sure to favor certain subsidiaries and labels. We of course think of all products from organic farming, but also of the “Bleu Blanc Cœur” label concerning eggs (in particular for their above-average omega 3 content).

What you must remember

We will obviously keep in mind that all these recommendations must be adapted according to each person’s tolerances, allergies, and dietary beliefs (ideological or religious). Likewise, the needs of each population and each individual are singularly different and no generalization can therefore be recommended regarding the quantities to consume daily. Protein food supplements alone could be the subject of an article in their own right and are therefore not mentioned among these lines.

Let us keep in mind, however, that without demonizing or idealizing them, these foods are not necessary for the majority of the population, and should only be consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet, after consulting a professional (if possible health) and for people whose needs would be increased, in particular seniors and athletes to name but a few. You are now equipped to make the most informed choices possible on a daily basis. Don’t forget to vary these different sources of protein every day, both for your health and for your personal well-being, and keep in mind that the pleasure of eating remains the priority to guarantee its longevity.