High Protein Foods

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 03, 2020

Like fats and carbohydrates, protein is a macronutrient. This means that your body needs it in large amounts. However, your body doesn't store protein, so it is important to get enough through your diet. 

Protein supplements are also widely available. The most common form is protein powder, of which there are three main types: 

  • Whey
  • Soy
  • Casein

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Complete proteins, like whey, contain all nine amino acids that the body needs to get from food. 

You may need more protein if you lead a very active lifestyle. Consuming large amounts of protein is most effective when you space it out throughout your day, rather than consuming it all in one meal. But beware of going overboard, as too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and liver and might lead to osteoporosis

Why You Need Protein

Protein is vital for three major functions. It helps you grow and repair muscles and other soft tissues. It is also a building block of enzymes and hormones, which help regulate processes in your body. Thirdly, protein is a fuel that your body burns for energy.

Your body’s protein requirement depends on your weight. The average adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (around 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight). So, a 140-pound person needs around 50 grams of protein every day. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that protein make up between 10% to 35% of your daily calories.

Protein is the building block of numerous body parts, including:

  • Hair
  • Nails
  • Tissues
  • Enzymes
  • Hormones
  • Muscles
  • Cartilage
  • Skin
  • Blood

Foods With Protein

Many foods contain protein. However, some protein sources are better than others. Consuming processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colorectal cancer. Additionally, the consumption of red meat has been linked to several diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Replacing red meat with beans, soy foods, nuts, fish, or poultry may reduce the risk of these diseases.  

The following 7 high protein foods are healthier alternatives to red meat:

1. Fish

Fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein available. That's because it is packed with many other essential nutrients, such as: 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

Fish is also high in protein. Three ounces of Atlantic salmon contain 22 grams of protein, while the same amount of cod contains 19 grams.

2. Poultry

Any kind of bird raised primarily for meat and eggs is considered poultry. 

Chicken is one of the most common poultry sources of protein. A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast contains an impressive 26 grams of protein. Turkey has slightly less protein, with 25 grams in 3 ounces.

3. Beans

One serving of beans provides the same amount of protein as 1 ounce of meat about 7 grams. Beans also keep you full for longer because, unlike animal sources of protein, they are rich in fiber.

4. Nuts

Just one ounce of nuts contains anywhere from 3 to 7 grams of protein and 1 to 3 grams of fiber. Almonds and pistachios are among the most protein-rich nuts, with 21.15 and 20.16 grams per 100 grams, respectively.

5. Dairy Products

Although many cheeses aren't the healthiest sources of protein due to their high saturated fat contents, cottage cheese is an exception. One cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains 180 milligrams of calcium and 26 grams of protein. 

Greek yogurt is another protein-rich dairy product. It contains two to three times the amount of protein in regular yogurt.

6. Eggs 

Eggs make for an excellent source of protein, as they are: 

  • Low-carb
  • Low-calorie
  • Low-cost

Most of the protein in eggs is found in the whites, which also contain vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and choline. 

Eggs are a complete protein, as they contain all nine essential amino acids. 

7. Lentils

People who pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle remove many common sources of protein from their diet. Lentils are a great plant-based alternative, as 100 grams of raw lentils contain nearly 25 grams of protein. 

This type of legume is also an excellent source of fiber. 

Show Sources


ACS Distance Education: “Protein- how is it used in the body?”

Allina Health: "Meat, poultry and fish."

Cleveland Clinic: "The Top 4 Protein Sources May Surprise You."

FoodData Central: "Lentils, raw."

FoodData Central: "Nuts, almonds."

FoodData Central: "Nuts, pistachio nuts, raw."

Harvard Health Blog: "How much protein do you need every day?"

Harvard T.H. Chan: “Protein.”

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