Paleo, Keto, blood type, Atkins, vegan, Mediterranean, raw food, and all other diets on the planet have one common friend: high protein foods.
“Why is protein such as highly prized nutrient, compared to its siblings: carbohydrates and fats?”
That’s because protein is responsible for our cell’s growth and development. Without protein, our cells can’t grow or repair itself. Without growth, our bodies will die.
It’s undeniable that protein is vital for our health.
However, not all foods with protein are good for your body.
In this article, you’ll learn what you don’t know about protein and a comprehensive list of high protein foods.
So, let’s get cooking.
95% of your body weight is dependent not on exercise but on what you eat.
— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Program
What Is Protein?
“What is a protein?”
Protein is one of the three macronutrients that our body needs in sizable amounts. The other two macronutrients are carbohydrates and fats.
Protein is often referred to as our bodies’ building block because of its central role in cell growth and development.
“What does protein do?”
Protein also makes up the most significant amount of nutrients in our body, because every single cell in our blood, organs, tissues, and muscles require protein to grow, repair, and maintain themselves.
Proteins generally have many functions and are classified into nine types of proteins.
Nine Types Of Proteins
Protein has many roles in our bodies, and they are categorized into nine types of proteins:
- Enzymatic proteins: build and break down molecules. Example of proteins: lactase and amylase.
- Structural proteins: strengthen cells, tissues, organs, and more. E.g., collagen.
- Signaling proteins: allow cells to communicate with each other. E.g., insulin.
- Regulatory proteins: turn genes on and off. E.g., estrogen.
- Transport proteins: move nutrients around the body. E.g., hemoglobin.
- Sensory proteins: detect light, sound, touch, smell, taste, pain. E.g., opsins in the eye detect light.
- Motor proteins: move and change the shape of cells to help us move.
- Defense proteins: fight infections and heal damaged wounds. E.g., antibodies.
- Storage proteins: store nutrients for later use. E.g., casein stores milk protein.
Does protein give you energy?
Our primary source of energy comes from carbohydrates and fats. In cases where our bodies are not getting enough energy from nutrients and stored fats, protein is used as an energy alternative.
Also, excess proteins get converted and stored as fat for future energy use.
How Much Protein Per Day?
There’s no one right answer. Different people have different body composition, health goals, and level of physical activity. Even after taking all this into account, you’ll end up with a starting number, which is just a guideline.
You need to start experimenting and find out how much protein your body really needs.
This raises the question, “How many grams of protein per day do you need?”
The guiding numbers shown below are grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg).
If you’re of a healthy weight and,
- You have a sedentary lifestyle; your daily protein intake is at least 1.2g/kg.
You have an active lifestyle,
- And want to maintain your weight:1.4-1.6g/kg
- And want to gain muscles: 1.4-2.4g/kg
- And want to lose weight: 1.8-2.7g/kg
If you’re overweight or obese, your recommended protein intake is 1.2-1.5g/kg.
If you’re pregnant, 1.66-1.77g/kg is advisable.
If you’re lactating, it’s recommended to take >1.5g/kg of protein.
If you’re a vegan or obtain most proteins from plants, you need a higher amount of proteins because our bodies absorb fewer proteins from plants compared to animals.
How much protein can your body absorb?
The percentage of protein the body can use differs from protein to protein. The body can use 100% of the protein in an egg, a high percentage of proteins in milk and meat, and a little less than half in plant-based foods.
Your muscle mass and physical activity also determine protein’s absorption rate. A person who has more muscles and more active may absorb slightly more proteins than a less active, less muscular person.
According to a study in moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal, the results showed there’s no significant boost of muscle protein synthesis in meals with more than 30g of protein.
Meaning, our body uses around 30g of protein for muscle growth, and any excess protein will be used for other functions or converted to fats.
How much protein per day to lose weight?
Weight loss is a byproduct of health.
— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Program
The ideal amount of protein for people who want to lose weight depends on your level of physical activity, body composition, and various factors.
Generally speaking, it is recommended to take at least 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.54 g/lbs).
If you’re 80kg, this means you need at least 96g of protein per day.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean more protein is better.
How Much Protein Is Too Much?
Anything twice or thrice the recommended amount of protein is considered too much.
“What happens if you eat too much protein?”
As the adage goes, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. If you’re eating too much protein, your health could suffer from a number of side effects of protein.
The symptoms related to overeating protein include:
- Sudden exhaustion
Serious risks associated with constant protein overconsumption include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Blood vessel disorders
- Liver and kidney injuries
- Type-2 diabetes
As long as you keep your daily protein intake within the range (slightly more is okay), you’re good.
Does protein make you fat?
If you eat a lot of protein and excess protein gets converted to fat, does protein make you fat then?
In a way, yes.
Calories can go over the roof when you increase your protein intake. This can lead to weight gain over time, specifically for women because their metabolism is slightly lower compared to men.
In this case, the best protein for women (and men) are lean proteins — foods that are high in protein and low in calories — and plant-based proteins. These are the best sources of protein to reach for.
What Are The Sources Of Protein?
Nothing tastes as good as health and longevity feels.
— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Program
This is your definitive guide to the best high protein foods you need to eat.
Whether you want to get in better shape, increase your muscle mass or simply eat healthier, this list introduces foods high in protein and low in fat that help you hit your health goals.
1. Chicken Breast
Let’s kickstart the list with the best animal protein, chicken breast.
The best part about chicken breast is that the majority of the calories come from protein.
Plus, chicken is loaded with essential micronutrients such as selenium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and niacin.
Protein in chicken: A piece (272g) of skinless chicken breast contains 326 calories, 61.2g of protein, 7.13g of fats.
One thing to note: be sure to remove the skin and any visible fats to reduce even more calories.
2. Turkey Breast
The star of holiday feasts, turkey!
Though turkey is often associated with feasts, its breast cut tops the list of highest protein foods. It is packed with protein and nutrients, namely B vitamins, niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc.
Protein in turkey: A 4-ounce (113g) skinless turkey breast contains 129 calories, 27.6g of protein, 1.7g of fats.
3. Lean beef
Protein in steak shouldn’t be excluded as well, particularly lean beef. It is packed with iron, vitamin B12, and large amounts of other important nutrients.
Protein in beef: A 4-ounce of 95% lean raw ground beef contains 155 calories, 24.2g of protein, 5.6g of fats.
One thing to note: you should avoid processed meat because they contain additives, preservatives, and other chemicals harmful to your health.
4. Lean pork
Being high in protein and rich in many nutrients, lean pork can add an extra protein boost to your diet.
Protein in pork: One piece (180g) of lean pork chop offers 351 calories, 55.8g of protein, and 12.4g of fats.
One thing to note: not all pork cuts are lean proteins. Choose cuts that have words like “loin” or “chop”.
The best fish you should eat are those with great nutritional profiles, specifically high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
Fish that you should avoid are those with a high amount of mercury such as king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, and swordfish.
Protein in fish: One fillet (112g) of raw Atlantic mackerel contains 230 calories, 20.8g of protein, and 15.6g of fats.
Examples of low-fat fish are codfish, flounder, haddock, tuna, halibut, tilapia, mahi-mahi, and pollock.
Shrimp usually tops the list of low-calorie foods.
One reason why shrimp is regarded as one of the best high protein foods is that it doesn’t contain any carbohydrates and 90% of its calories come from protein.
Protein in shrimp: A 3-ounce (85g) serving of shrimp contains 84 calories, 17.8g of protein, and 0.9g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know shrimps are one of the best natural sources of iodine, a nutrient that most people lack of?
“Got milk? Good for you!”
Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon ads saying “milk is good for you”. While it is high in milk protein and calcium, 65% of the global population intolerant to dairy milk is a clue.
Fast forward, non-dairy milk is the safest and healthiest way to go — for instance, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, and coconut milk.
Protein in soy milk: One cup of organic unsweetened soy milk contains 80 calories, 7g of protein, and 4g of fats.
Interesting fact: Do you know milk can be processed into protein-concentrate powders such as whey protein isolate? If you’re on a specialized high-protein diet, you may need isolate protein powders to help you hit your protein targets.
An eggcellent choice of food high in protein.
Besides being loaded with healthy protein, eggs also help people feel more satisfied and prevent them from overeating.
How many grams of protein in one egg?
One large hard-boiled egg (50g) contains 211 calories, 17.1g of protein, and 14.4g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know eggs are second only to mother’s milk for human nutrition?
One more reason for you to indulge in cheese.
Again, not all cheeses are high in protein. Some come with a lot of saturated fats, so we want to avoid those.
Examples of healthy cheeses that are high in protein are swiss cheese, mozzarella, blue cheese, and goat cheese.
Protein in mozzarella: One ounce (28g) of mozzarella has 84 calories, 7g of protein, and 6g of fats.
These cute little green beans are immature soybeans.
They may not sound appetizing, but they’re a great source of plant protein. And these protein rich foods taste great by themselves.
Protein in edamame: One cup (156g) of shelled edamame contains 188 calories, 18.4g of protein, and 8g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know edamame contains calcium and vitamin K, which is a double-win for your bones?
Soybeans may not be as popular as their processed children like tofu, tempeh, and milk, but they are very versatile and can be cooked with many kinds of foods.
You can boil, steam, bake, stir-fry, or smash them into patties.
Protein in soybeans: A 3.5-ounce (100g) of boiled soybeans contains 173 calories, 16.6g of protein, and 9g of fats.
Tofu, made from soybean curds, is one of the few plant proteins that provide all 9 essential amino acids (all soy products are complete protein).
It is naturally gluten-free and low in calories, making it a great addition of soy protein to your diet without adversely affecting your waistline.
Protein in tofu: A half-cup (126g) of raw firm tofu contains 181 calories, 21.8g of protein, and 11g of fats.
What makes tofu a magical food is primarily thanks to its isoflavones that have been linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer (breast and prostate cancer), osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases.
Tempeh is tofu’s superior brother. They’re made from the same soybeans, but tempeh’s protein content is significantly higher than tofu.
It’s because tempeh is usually combined with nuts, seeds, legumes or whole grains. These are all protein powerhouses packed in a single block.
Protein in tempeh: A 3-ounce (85g) serving of tempeh contains 162 calories, 15g of protein, and 9g of fats.
Another protein powerhouse on the list.
While lentils are economical in their dried forms, their nutrition profiles should never be underrated. They are high in fiber, protein, magnesium, folate, and various other nutrients.
Protein in lentils: A 3.5-ounce (100g) of cooked lentils contains 116 calories, 9g of protein, and 0.4g of fats.
An essential ingredient in hummus, chickpea, is one of the highest protein foods.
Chickpea is an excellent substitute for meat and can add a significant amount of protein to your diet. On top of that, chickpeas also help to prevent several health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and help in weight loss.
Protein in chickpea: A 1-ounce of cooked chickpea (28g) contains 46 calories, 2.5g of protein, and 0.7g of fats.
17. Kidney beans
Kidney bean, a peculiar bean that resembles our kidneys, is a variety of the common bean.
They come in many colors, namely red, white, cream, black or purple. Despite the color difference, their nutritional profiles are quite similar.
Protein in kidney beans: A 3.5-ounce (100g) of boiled kidney beans has 127 calories, 8.7g of protein, and 0.5g of fats.
18. Black beans
Also known as turtle beans because of their hard, shell-like appearance, black bean is a type of legume that is rich in protein.
Among many benefits, black beans may help strengthen bones due to the bone-healthy nutrients like iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and zinc present in all black beans.
Protein in black beans: One cup (172g) of black beans has 227 calories, 15.2g of protein and 1g of fats.
19. Pinto beans
Pinto beans are most often found in burritos.
They are one of the foods high in protein, phosphorus, manganese, folate, and exceptionally high in dietary fiber. It’s the perfect addition to a healthy lunch.
Protein in pinto beans: 1 cup (171g) of pinto beans has 245 calories, 15.4g of protein, and 1.1g of fats.
Some may call it the all-powerful plant on the planet. There’s some evidence showing that flaxseeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Even though flax seeds contain all kinds of healthy compounds, it owes its healthy reputation primarily to three things: omega-3 fatty acids, lignans (plant estrogen and antioxidants), and fiber.
Protein in flax seeds: One ounce (28g) of flax seeds contains 152 calories, 5.2g of protein, and 12g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know chickens fed with flax seeds lay eggs with higher omega-3s?
21. Chia seeds
Chia seeds were a staple food for the Aztecs since 5,500 years ago for several good reasons: they can help boost fiber, protein, calcium, antioxidants, and omega-3s in your diet.
Protein in chia seeds: One ounce (28g) of chia seeds has 138 calories, 4.7g of protein, and 8.7g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know the Aztecs offer chia seeds as offerings to their gods?
22. Pumpkin seeds
Used to be a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, pumpkin seeds are now eaten as protein foods, snacks, or used in cooking all around the world.
They’re a great source of protein, zinc, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and a natural source of tryptophan — which helps in improving sleep.
Protein in pumpkin seeds: One ounce (28g) of pumpkin seeds contains 142 calories, 5.7g of protein, and 9.4g of fats.
23. Hemp seeds
Although hemp seeds and marijuana come from the same species, hemp seeds contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.
Far from making you high, hemp seeds are loaded with essential nutrients such as plant protein, heart-healthy omega-3s, dietary fiber, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is often used to treat skin conditions, high cholesterol, heart, disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Protein in hemp seeds: One ounce (28g) of hemp seeds has 157 calories, 9g of protein, and 13.8g of fats.
The demand for almonds has quadrupled since 1980, and there’s a good reason for that.
Almonds with its unique nutrient combo — plant-based protein, fiber, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, and magnesium — made them a food high in protein and a healthy boost to our diets.
Protein in almonds: One ounce (28g) of whole almonds contains 164 calories, 6g of protein, and 14.2g of fats.
You see peanuts everywhere — desserts, cakes, confectionery, snacks, sauces, spreads, and more. But the healthiest form of peanut with the highest protein is dry-roasted peanut (unsalted and unsweetened).
Protein in peanut: One ounce (28g) dry-roasted peanuts has 167 calories, 6.9g of protein, and 14.1g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know peanuts are actually related to beans rather than nuts?
Originating from Central Asia and the Middle East since 7000 BC, pistachios have made their way to Western countries in the 19th century and became popular in many dishes.
Pistachios are foods high in protein that are packed with antioxidants and fiber beneficial to our health in various ways.
Protein in pistachios: One ounce (28g) of dry-roasted pistachios contains 162 calories, 6g of protein, and 13g of fats.
Ever heard of cashew milk?
It’s not surprising to see cashews being widely used to make dairy alternatives like cashew milk and cashew cheese.
Cashews have several possible health benefits — such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, help with weight loss, and improve bone health.
With cashews, you can lose weight without exercise!
Protein in cashews: One ounce (28g) of dry-roasted cashews has 163 calories, 4.3g of protein, and 13.2g of fats.
Studies have found that nuts can help reduce rates of cardiovascular diseases, and walnuts are a notch above.
This is because of the uniqueness of nutrients in walnuts. They contain a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids, nutrients with anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidants, and omega-3s.
Protein in English walnuts: One ounce (28g) of walnuts contains 186 calories, 4.3g of protein, and 18.5g of fats.
29. Khorasan grains
Have you ever tasted a sweet, nutty, buttery grain?
Meet Khorasan, an ancient wheat that’s attracting interests from pasta makers, bakers, and consumers alike.
Not only because it’s a food high in protein, but it is also easier to digest and has shown promising results in reducing total cholesterol compared to modern wheat.
Protein in Khorasan: One cup (172g) of Khorasan contains 227 calories, 9.8g of protein, and 1.4g of fats.
30. Teff grains
A grain the size of a poppy seed that is widely farmed in Ethiopia, teff is naturally high in protein and minerals.
In terms of calcium, teff leads all grains by a wide margin. One cup of cooked teff offers 123mg of calcium, about the same amount as half-cup of cooked spinach.
The best part is?
Protein in teff: One cup (252g) of cooked teff has 255 calories, 9.8g of protein, and 1.6g of fats.
Quinoa, often described as a “superfood”, has become popular among vegans and health-conscious people, with good reasons.
It is one of the high protein foods that are gluten-free, contains fiber and various minerals and vitamins, including iron, copper, thiamin, and vitamin B6.
Protein in quinoa: One cup (185g) of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, 8.1g of protein, and 3.6g of fats.
Fun fact: Do you know quinoa are seeds, although they’re commonly cooked as grains?
32. Whole wheat pasta
A 100% whole wheat pasta is way healthier than its refined cousin, white pasta, but why?
This is because whole wheat pasta includes all three layers of the wheat kernel: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Most nutrients are present in the bran and germ, which are removed during the making of refined wheat.
This makes whole wheat pasta holds higher nutritional content than refined pasta.
Protein in whole wheat pasta: One cup (117g) of cooked spaghetti has 174 calories, 7g of protein, and 2g of fats.
33. Wild rice
Another champion in whole grain, wild rice is very nutritious and believed to be housing powerful antioxidants and fiber.
Wild rice tops the high protein foods list among regular grains. Though it is not a rich protein source, wild rice is considered a complete protein — which means it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Protein in wild rice: One cup (164g) cooked wild rice contains 166 calories, 6.5g of protein, and 0.6g of fats.
Popeye’s favorite food, spinach! We used to wonder why Popeye became so much stronger right after eating spinach.
Turns out, spinach is a high protein vegetable loaded with tons of nutrients in a low-calorie package. They provide protein, iron, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and more.
Protein in spinach: One cup (180g) of cooked spinach offers 41 calories, 5.4g of protein, and 0.5g of fats.
As spring is around the corner, vegetables like asparagus, spinach, and artichoke are at their freshest!
Grab your hands on some asparagus for a boost of protein, fiber, folate, vitamin A, C, E, and K, as well as antioxidants.
Some benefits of asparagus you probably didn’t know include 1) it can help fight cancer, 2) it is a brain booster, and 3) it’s a natural diuretic, meaning it increases urination thus getting rid of excess salt.
Protein in asparagus: One cup (180g) of cooked asparagus has 40 calories, 4.3g of protein, and 0.4g of fats.
Artichoke is one of the protein rich foods that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties.
Some benefits of artichokes are lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, improving liver health and digestive health.
Protein in artichoke (globe or french): One medium cooked artichoke (120g) contains 61 calories, 3.5g of protein, and 0.4g of fats.
37. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts, named after Brussels in Belgium, are cruciferous veggies, the same family as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and others.
Though they taste bitter and hated by many, when they are properly cooked and seasoned, Brussels sprouts offer a natural, nutty sweetness.
They are rich in protein, vitamin C and K, folate, carotenoids (help in decreasing the risk of certain cancers and eye diseases), and fiber.
Protein in Brussels sprouts: One cup (156g) of cooked Brussels sprouts offers 56 calories, 4g of protein, and 0.8g of fats.
An equal cousin of Brussels sprouts, broccoli is rich in protein, vitamin C (as much as an orange) and K, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Protein in broccoli: One cup (156g) of cooked broccoli has 55 calories, 3.7g of protein, and 0.6g of fats.
How To Get More Protein In Your Diet?
‘Diet’ does not mean ‘temporary alteration of your life for short-term gain,’ it means ‘way of life.’
— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Program
The vast majority of us have enough protein in our diet; however, we lack high-quality protein, especially from whole foods.
One hack is to practice mindful eating.
Always opt for fresh, whole foods that provide all the nutrients your body needs instead of nutrient-empty processed foods filled with chemicals.
How you cook determines the nutrient content in foods as well. Deep-fried foods may be crunchier but it adds unnecessary oil and fats to your diet, which can increase the risk factors of obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Choose healthier cooking methods such as baking, blanching, poaching or stir-fry.
Do you know what’s the healthiest cooking method?
It’s to not cook at all!
The principle of eating raw food is not to heat the food above 118°F (or 48°C) to maintain the proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The longer the foods are exposed to light, heat or pressure, the fewer nutrients they retain.
The bottom line is,
You don’t have to make drastic changes at once to get more high protein foods.
Start with substituting beef steak with lean chicken breast. Or replace meat with tempeh. And increase the amount of fresh vegetables per meal.
These tiny changes compound over time and will bring lasting changes to your health.
What are your strategies to incorporate more high protein foods to your diet? And what challenges do you face? We’d love to hear from you!
Let us know in the comment section below.