Nutrients in Plant and Animal Foods

A useful resource for those interested in nutrition is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) group of Food Composition Databases 1 .  They analyse a massive range of foods and list their nutritional content. In this brief blog, I want to give you a snap-shot of the nutrient values shown within these databases for a given amount of plant-based foods when compared with the same amount of animal-based foods.

The research data

The chart below comes from the USDA databases 2 and from the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 3 and represents 500 calories of each of the food sources:

The plant-based foods are composed of equal parts of:

  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • lima beans
  • peas
  • potatoes

The animal-based foods are composed of equal parts of:

  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken
  • whole milk

The exact food listings in the database were:

  • plant-based foods
    • spinach, raw
    • tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year-round average
    • lima beans, large, mature seeds, raw
    • peas, green, raw
    • potatoes, russet, flesh and skin, raw
  • animal-based foods
    • ground beef, 80% lean meat/20% fat, raw
    • pork, fresh, ground, raw
    • chicken, broilers or fryers, meat and skin, raw
    • milk, dry, whole

Final thoughts

The above speaks for itself. As you can see, there’s much more nutritional value per calorie in plant-foods than in animal-foods, and this is apart from the myriad health problems associated with the latter compared with the former.

As Dr Joel Fuhrman pointed out 4Health = Nutrient Intake/Calories. That is, the more nutrient value there is per calorie of the foods you consume, the better health you should expect from your diet; on the other hand, the less nutrient value there is per calorie, the less health benefits you should expect to see.


  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. []
  2. USDA. (2016). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Retrieved from: []
  3. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. Volume 12, Issue 3, September 1999, Pages 169-196. []
  4. Health = Nutrient Intake ÷ Calories []