Protein Sources for a Healthy Diet

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 13, 2023
3 min read

You need to get 10%-35% of your calories from protein each day. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that's 50-175 grams of protein. Here are some of the best protein sources that can help you meet your goals. 


Seafood is an excellent source of lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Here's how much protein you'll get in a 3-ounce serving:

  • Salmon: 22.5 grams 
  • Tuna: 25.5 grams 
  • Scallops: 17.5 grams
  • Rainbow trout: 20 grams
  • Shrimp: 20.5 grams 
  • Tilapia: 22 grams


Beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and other types of meat are high in protein. Choose lean sources low in saturated fat and take the skin off poultry. You can pack in the protein with 3-ounce servings of:

  • Chicken breast: 26.5 grams
  • Ground beef (90% lean): 22 grams
  • Pork tenderloin: 22 grams
  • Ground lamb: 21 grams
  • Ground bison: 21.5 grams


Not only are dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt excellent protein sources, but they're also a good source of calcium to keep your bones strong. Here's how much protein you'll get from popular dairy options:

  • Skim milk: 8.5 grams per cup
  • Low-fat plain yogurt: 9 grams in 6 ounces
  • Cottage cheese: 14 grams in 4 ounces
  • Parmesan cheese: 8 grams in 1 ounce


Eggs are a source of high-quality protein that your body can easily digest and use. One egg has 5 to 8 grams of protein, depending on its size.  


Legumes are an excellent source of plant-based protein. They're low in fat and high in fiber. In one serving you'll get:

  • Lentils: 18 grams per cup
  • Peas: 8.5 grams per cup
  • Black beans: 14.5 grams per cup
  • Chickpeas: 14.5 grams per cup
  • Peanuts: 7 grams per ounce


Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats. Because they're high in calories, the normal serving size is about 1 ounce. Some good options are:

  • Almonds: 6 grams
  • Pistachios: 6 grams
  • Brazil nuts: 4 grams
  • Cashews: 4.5 grams
  • Walnuts: 4 grams


Soybeans are a type of legume. They're high in protein and used to make many plant-based foods. Here's how much protein you'll get in a serving of common soy foods:

  • Tofu: 15 grams per serving (about 1/4 block)
  • Edamame: 18.5 grams per cup
  • Soymilk: 7 grams per cup
  • Tempeh: 15.5 grams per 1/2 cup


Seeds are small but mighty. In 1 ounce you'll get:

  • Flax seeds: 5 grams
  • Chia seeds: 5 grams
  • Sunflower seeds: 6 grams
  • Pumpkin seeds: 5.5 grams

Whole grains

High-fiber whole grains are a better source of nutrients than refined grains. Per cup, you'll get:

Brown rice: 5.5 grams

Quinoa: 8 grams

Oatmeal: 11 grams

Bulgur: 6 grams

Fruits are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also have a little bit of protein. Some that have the highest amount are:

  • Avocado: 3 grams per fruit
  • Guava: 1.5 grams per fruit
  • Blackberries: 2 grams per cup
  • Apricots: 2 grams per cup

High-quality meats and seafood are usually expensive. Good protein sources when you're on a budget include: 

  • Peanut butter
  • Edamame
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Canned tuna
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sardines
  • Oats
  • Milk

Tips when shopping for protein

For the healthiest and most budget-friendly protein options, keep these tips in mind next time you're at the grocery store.

Choose whole foods. Packaged and prepared foods can be very processed and high in fat and sodium. Instead of buying lunch meat, pick up some fresh chicken breast. Choose dried beans and cook them yourself instead of canned beans. 

Look for low sugar and sodium. When you're buying nuts and nut butters, read the labels. Many have lots of sugar and sodium added. Pick nut butters and whole nuts without anything added. 

Try new things. If you usually stick to chicken and eggs, branch out a bit. Go for plant-based options, or try a different type of seafood. This keeps things interesting and adds variety to your diet.

Look for frozen options. Frozen meat and fish that's already packaged is just as nutritious as the fresh kinds at the counter. And it's often priced lower. 

Buy in bulk. Frozen meat and seafood and other protein sources like nuts and beans can also be cheaper when you buy them in large amounts.

Research shows that including a protein source like an egg or Greek yogurt at breakfast along with a high-fiber, whole-grain food like oatmeal can help you feel full longer and eat less throughout the day.