26 Best Foods High in Protein

There are plenty of foods packed with protein that you can include in your diet. These high-protein options range from fruits and veggies to dairy products, meat, seeds, and more.

Eating foods rich in protein comes with various benefits, such as building muscle and feeling satisfied after meals. While loading up on protein can be advantageous, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced diet for overall health.

Protein is a vital nutrient that plays a key role in many bodily functions, serving as the building blocks for cells and helping to preserve muscle mass.

For most healthy adults, the recommended intake is at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). However, individual protein needs may vary based on factors like physical activity and medical history.

Due to its ability to create a sense of fullness, some people opt for a high-protein diet when aiming to lose weight.

What Is Protein?

If you’ve ever been on a diet or discussed nutrition, you’ve likely encountered the term protein. While its importance is known, understanding what protein truly is may be less common.

Dietary proteins consist of various amino acids, serving as the building blocks of protein. These amino acids are utilized by the body for diverse functions, from hormone production to constructing specific proteins within the body. When we consume protein-rich foods like hamburgers or lentil soup, the body absorbs and employs the amino acids for numerous cellular functions.

What Can Protein Do for You?

Beyond its association with bodybuilders, protein, specifically the amino acids it comprises, plays crucial roles in the body, including:

  • Promoting satiety, aiding weight-management goals
  • Potentially reducing the risk of high blood pressure
  • Supporting injury recovery
  • Lowering the risk of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss)
  • Contributing to the proper functioning of the immune system

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Although protein is vital, it’s not a call to consume excessive amounts daily. Your protein needs depend on factors like weight, age, sex, and health status.

Generally, most healthy adults require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a sedentary man of average weight, this equals 55 grams per day, and for a sedentary woman of average weight, it’s 45 grams per day. However, physically active individuals, pregnant or lactating women, those recovering from injuries or surgeries, and older adults may need higher protein intake.

If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, here are some of the best high-protein foods you can include in your meals.

Best foods high in protein

  1. Salmon: Salmon is a fatty fish, packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Besides being heart-healthy, it’s an excellent protein source that can leave you feeling satisfied after meals. A 178-gram salmon fillet contains a substantial 39.3 grams of protein.
  2. Chicken Breast: Chicken breast is a lean protein option, with most of its calories coming from protein, especially when served without the skin. A 100-gram serving of skinless chicken breast provides approximately 22.5 grams of protein.
  3. Beef: Beef is a protein powerhouse, offering significant protein content per serving. A 3-ounce serving (85 grams) of ground beef provides around 21.3 grams of protein. Opt for lean beef to manage saturated fat intake for better heart health, aiming to keep it within 5–6% of daily calories.
  4. Tuna: Tuna is a widely available protein source known for its heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids. A 107-gram can of tuna contains about 20.3 grams of protein. Canned tuna is a convenient pantry staple, shelf-stable and affordable, making it versatile for salads, sandwiches, and snacks.
  5. Bison: Bison meat is an excellent protein source that’s leaner than beef, offering less fat per serving. Increasingly available, some people use bison as a beef substitute. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of bison provides around 21.6 grams of protein.
  6. Turkey: Turkey is a protein powerhouse, offering about 25.6 grams of protein per 3-ounce (85 grams) serving of cooked turkey breast.
  7. Halibut: Halibut, a white fish, is an excellent source of lean protein, providing around 29.3 grams in half a fillet (159 grams).

Vegetarian High-Protein Foods

For those following a vegetarian diet, there are plenty of high-protein options.

Eggs:

Eggs are a versatile and nutrient-rich protein source, with one large egg containing approximately 6.3 grams of protein. Whether boiled, scrambled, or poached, eggs can be incorporated into various dishes like stir fry, soup, and sandwiches for a protein boost. A hard-boiled egg makes a convenient high-protein snack.

Note: Not all vegetarian diets include eggs; a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs and dairy.

Greek Yogurt:

Plain, low-fat Greek yogurt packs a substantial 19.9 grams of protein in a 7-ounce (200 grams) serving. Opt for plain Greek yogurt without added sugars and top it with your favorite fruits, nuts, and seeds for a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack.

Cottage Cheese:

Cottage cheese, a dairy product, is rich in protein, calcium, and other nutrients. A 4-ounce (113 grams) serving contains around 12.5 grams of protein.

Milk:

Cow’s milk is an excellent protein source, providing 8 grams of protein in a 1-cup (244 grams) serving for those who can tolerate it.

Nut Butters:

Nut butters like peanut butter and almond butter offer a quick and easy way to add protein to your diet. Use 1–2 tablespoons on whole grain toast, in a smoothie, or as a dip for apple slices and fresh veggies for a protein boost. The protein content can vary depending on the type of nut butter.

Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein powder is a popular supplement for those aiming to increase muscle mass and strength. Derived from the liquid part of milk leftover during cheese production, it can add a substantial amount of protein to your diet. However, it’s crucial to read nutrition labels as some whey proteins contain added sugars and sweeteners. The labels provide information about the protein content in that specific whey protein powder.

Vegan High-Protein Foods

For those following a vegan diet, here are some plant-based options rich in protein:

  1. Black Beans:

An economical protein source, black beans are highly versatile and provide around 15.2 grams of protein per cup (172 grams).

  1. Lima Beans:

Lima beans add variety to salads, stir-fries, and rice bowls, offering approximately 11.9 grams of protein in a 1-cup (241 grams) serving of canned lima beans.

  1. Broccoli:

While not a high-protein vegetable on its own, broccoli is higher in protein compared to many others. A cup (91 grams) of chopped raw broccoli contains about 2.57 grams of protein, along with various nutrients like folate and potassium, and is low in calories.

  1. Cauliflower:

Like broccoli, cauliflower is protein-rich considering its low calorie count. A cup (107 grams) of chopped cauliflower contains 2.05 grams of protein and only 27 calories.

  1. Chinese Cabbage (Napa Cabbage):

Full of antioxidants, 1 cup (109 grams) of cooked Chinese cabbage contributes 1.2 grams of protein to your daily intake.

  1. Oats:

Oats offer around 10.7 grams of protein per cup (81 grams) and are a source of complex carbohydrates. They are versatile and can be prepared as oatmeal, flavored with various healthy foods like fruits and nuts.

  1. Tempeh:

Derived from soybeans, tempeh has a higher protein content than tofu, providing about 20.3 grams of protein per 100 grams. It’s often found in the refrigerated produce section.

  1. Spirulina:

Spirulina, a bacteria growing in fresh and saltwaters, is rich in nutrients and protein. A cup (112 grams) of spirulina powder contains approximately 64.4 grams of protein and can be added to smoothies, salads, soups, and baked goods.

  1. Hemp Seeds:

With around 9.48 grams of protein per 3 tablespoons (30 grams), hemp seeds can be used in salads or as a substitute for croutons. They’re available in most grocery stores but can be pricey.

  1. Sun-Dried Tomatoes:

Sun-dried tomatoes, a versatile addition to many dishes, offer protein, nutrients, and fiber. A cup (54 grams) contains about 7.61 grams of protein.

  1. Guava:

A small tropical fruit, guava is surprisingly protein-rich, with about 4.21 grams per cup (165 grams), along with additional nutrients like vitamin C.

  1. Artichokes:

High in fiber and protein, a half-cup of cooked artichoke hearts (84 grams) provides about 2.43 grams of protein.

  1. Peas:

High in protein, fiber, and other nutrients, cooked green peas offer about 4.12 grams of protein per half-cup (80 grams).

  1. Chickpeas:

Rich in protein and fiber, chickpeas support heart and bone health. Some studies suggest protective effects against certain cancers.

  1. Quinoa:

One of the few complete vegetarian protein sources, quinoa contains around 8.14 grams of protein per cup (185 grams), along with all nine essential amino acids.

  1. Almonds:

Almonds, rich in healthy fats, make a calorie-dense, protein-rich snack, with approximately 6 grams of protein in a 1-ounce serving.

  1. Lentils:

Affordable and heart-healthy, cooked lentils provide around 17.9 grams of protein per cup (198 grams).

  1. Pumpkin Seeds:

Full of protein and minerals, a cup (46 grams) of pumpkin seeds contains around 13.7 grams of protein. They’re great as a snack or as a topping for yogurt, oatmeal, granola, smoothies, and soups.

  1. Avocado:

Avocados, not just rich in protein and unsaturated fat but also high in fiber and nutrients like potassium, offer 4.51 grams of protein per cup (230 grams) when pureed.

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