Protein is known as the building block of life. It’s everywhere in your body.
Protein helps make new cells and repair damaged cells in the tissues of your muscles, organs, and immune system. It also helps build muscle mass.
Protein may help you lose weight by keeping you more satisfied after eating.
Proteins are made of amino acids, which are reprocessed in your body to make more proteins. There are essential, nonessential, and conditional amino acids. Your body makes 13 nonessential amino acids on its own. However, you need to consume protein-rich foods to get the nine essential amino acids. Conditional amino acids aren’t usually essential, but you need them in higher amounts in time of stress and illness.
The recommended daily allowance of protein is a formula based on your age and weight. You should eat 0.36 grams (g) of protein per pound of body weight. That means if you weigh 140 pounds, you should eat 50 g of protein each day. Athletes and people who exercise vigorously need 0.54 to 0.90 g of protein per pound of body weight.
Another formula used to determine how much protein you need is based on your calorie intake. You should get 10 to 35 percent of your calories from protein. Depending on how much you eat, your protein requirements may be higher or lower than if you base it on your weight.
Children need 1 g of protein for every 2 pounds they weigh. If a child weighs 40 pounds, they need 20 g of protein daily.
Pregnant women should eat 71 g of protein daily no matter how many calories they eat.
Eggs are protein powerhouses. They’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals such as folate and other B vitamins, and choline.
Eggs are adaptable for any meal of the day. If you love breakfast for dinner, make a veggie omelet. For breakfast or lunch, top a piece of whole-grain toast with a scrambled egg and avocado slices. Keep a supply of hard-boiled eggs in your refrigerator for a portable, protein-crammed meal or snack.
Nutrition: One whole egg has 6 g protein, 68 calories (kcal), and 4.5 g fat.
Chicken is one of the most popular and versatile protein-rich foods. It’s low in fat, has zero carbs, and is high in choline, B vitamins, phosphorous, and selenium.
Chicken is healthy if you prepare it in a healthy way. Roasted or grilled chicken has much less calories and fat than chicken that’s fried or prepared in a rich sauce. To add flavor to roasted chicken, top it with a fresh salsa made with chopped fruits, tomatoes, and herbs.
Nutrition: One 6-ounce roasted chicken breast without skin has 53 g protein, 284 kcal, and 6 g fat.
Beef is one of the best protein sources. It’s also high in iron, a mineral many people don’t get enough of.
There are several cuts of beef to choose from. Lean cuts are best because they’re lower in fat and cholesterol. Some lean cuts of beef are:
- top sirloin
- eye of round
- top round
- bottom round
- sirloin tip
Nutrition: One 3-ounce top sirloin steak has 25 g protein, 180 kcal, and 8 g fat.
Pork is high in protein, B vitamins, and selenium.
Pork is available in many forms from cured ham and bacon to fresh pork loin. Almost every cooking method will work with some form of pork.
Nutrition: One 4-ounce pork loin chop has 23 g protein, 232 kcal, and 15 g fat.
You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to eat turkey. Turkey is a good source of:
- B vitamins
- other nutrients
Turkey is a versatile meat. It’s good in sandwiches, soups, or hashes. It’s a wonderful way to add protein to a pot pie or casserole.
Nutrition: One 3-ounce turkey breast has 24 g protein, 160 kcal, and 6 g fat.
Shrimp is a good protein option if you don’t like meat or poultry. It’s also rich in iron, B vitamins, and selenium.
Shrimp can be prepared boiled, grilled, or baked. You can eat it hot or cold. Don’t eat shrimp if you’re allergic to shellfish.
Nutrition: A 3-ounce portion of cooked shrimp has 19 g protein, 101 kcal, and 1 g fat.
The protein content of fish varies. Most types have between 15 and 20 percent protein. Some fish have more protein. Fish is loaded with other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, and potassium.
Fish may be grilled, baked, or broiled. It’s a good protein accompaniment for all vegetables and most other side dishes.
Some fish highest in protein are:
- bluefin tuna: 3 ounces has 25 g protein, 156 kcal, and 5 g fat
- tilapia: one tilapia fillet (roughly 3 ounces) has 23 g protein, 111 kcal, and 2 g fat
- sockeye salmon: 3 ounces has 23 g protein, 133 kcal, and 5 g fat
Tofu is a reliable source of protein for vegetarians and can also be enjoyed by meat eaters. It’s made from pressed soy milk. Tofu is also a good source of many minerals such as calcium, iron, and manganese. It provides folate and small amounts of many essential vitamins.
Tofu is often used as a meat or egg substitute. It may be grilled, stir-fried, or scrambled. Tofu is tasty added to salads, soups, or pasta dishes.
Nutrition: A one-quarter block of firm tofu has 7 g protein, 63 kcal, and 3 g fat.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that is pressed into a cake form. It’s a popular meat substitute for vegetarians.
Tempeh is much higher in protein than tofu. It’s also higher in calories. Tempeh provides significant levels of vitamins and minerals, especially:
- B vitamins, including folate
Tempeh has a nutty taste and can be baked, sautéed, or steamed.
Nutrition: 1/2 cup of tempeh has 17 g protein, 159 kcal, and 9 g fat.
10. Protein powder
Protein powder is a dietary supplement. There are many different types of protein supplements including whey, casein, soy, pea, rice, and hemp protein.
Protein powder is an effective way to get more protein if you’re an athlete or you’re unable to eat protein-rich foods. It’s available in many flavors and often added to smoothies, shakes, or baked goods.
Nutrition: Protein varies by brand. In general, one scoop of whey protein powder has 17 g protein, 103 kcal, and a trace of fat.
11. Protein bars
A protein bar is a protein-dense food often used as a meal replacement or workout snack. Most also contain considerable amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
The amount of protein and other nutrients varies by bar. Some protein bars are also high in sugar. Keep this in mind if you’re watching your waistline.
Nutrition: One protein bar has, on average, 20 g protein, 240 kcal, and 9 g fat.
12. Soy milk
Soy milk is made from soybeans and water. It’s a cow’s milk substitute if you’re lactose-intolerant. Vegans who don’t want to drink cow’s milk may drink soy milk.
Soy milk is a decent source of protein. It’s also high in vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin B-12. Try soy milk in smoothies, baked goods, or your morning cup of coffee.
Nutrition: 1 cup of fortified soy milk has 6 g protein, 104 kcal, and 3.5 g fat.
13. Cow’s milk
Cow’s milk is an effective way to get protein, unless you’re sensitive to it and can’t drink it. It’s an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D and promotes healthy bones. It also has many other important vitamins, such as vitamin B12, phosphorous, and potassium.
Milk is good on its own or added to soups, smoothies, or cereal. There’s not much difference in the amount of protein in whole milk, 2 percent milk, or 1 percent milk.
Nutrition: 1 cup of fortified 2 percent milk has 8 g protein, 122 kcal, and 5 g fat.
Cheese is made from milk. There are almost countless varieties. Cheese can be added to almost any savory recipe such as salads and sandwiches.
Both hard and soft cheese are useful sources of protein. Cheese is also high in calcium and riboflavin. It contains significant amounts of selenium, phosphorous, and zinc. Some types of cheese are high in sodium.
15. Greek yogurt
Yogurt is made from fermented milk. All types of yogurt have protein. Greek yogurt is strained so it’s thicker than regular yogurt. It also has more protein than regular yogurt.
Eating Greek yogurt can help you meet your daily recommended allowance of calcium and potassium. It has a tangy taste and can be used as a substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise. It’s a go-to ingredient of smoothies and parfaits.
Nutrition: One container (roughly 6 ounces) of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt has 17 g protein, 100 kcal, and a trace of fat.
Almonds are a type of tree nut. They are a healthy and nutrient-dense. Almonds are high in protein, B vitamins, and vitamin E. They’re also a major source of almost every essential mineral, especially manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
Almonds may be eaten raw or roasted. They’re great on their own or in salads or stir-fried dishes. They make a unique coating for baked chicken or fish.
Nutrition: 1/4 cup of whole almonds has 7.5 g protein, 207 kcal, and 18 g fat.
Quinoa is a pseudo cereal, which means it’s eaten like a grain even though it’s a small, edible seed. It’s considered one of the healthiest foods available.
Quinoa is a good source of folate and other B vitamins, and many minerals, particularly manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous. Quinoa is also high in fiber.
Quinoa makes a great side dish. Toss it into a smoothie, or cook it like oatmeal and top with maple syrup and cinnamon.
Nutrition: 1 cup of cooked quinoa has 8 g protein, 222 kcal, and 3.5 g fat.
Lentils are a legume. Chock-full of protein, they’re a popular source of this nutrient for vegetarians and vegans. Legumes are also a major source of fiber, iron, and manganese. They’re high in some B vitamins as well.
Lentils make a great substitute for meat in tacos and other Mexican dishes. They’re tasty in a veggie burger and soups.
Nutrition: 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 g protein, 230 kcal, and a trace of fat.
Edamame are green soybeans cooked in their pods. They’re a great source of protein and almost every other essential vitamin and mineral including:
- vitamin K
Enjoy edamame as a substitute for green beans or peas in your recipes. You can puree shelled edamame into dips, which make a great substitute for guacamole and humus.
Nutrition: 1 cup of frozen, prepared edamame has 18.5 g protein, 188 kcal, and 8 g fat.
20. Black beans
Black beans are legumes, and another good plant-based protein. They’re also high in fiber, folate, and many essential minerals.
Black beans are delicious in veggie burgers, tacos, and dips. Surprisingly, they make a wonderful flour substitute in brownies. The result is a fudgy dessert that’s healthier and packed with protein.
Nutrition: 1 cup of cooked black beans has 15 g protein, 227 kcal, and 1 g fat.
21. Sprouted bread
Sprouted grain bread is made from sprouted (germinated) grains. Most sprouted breads are made without flour.
Sprouted bread is a decent source of protein and fiber, especially if you enjoy more than one slice daily. You can substitute sprouted bread for any type of bread in your recipes.
Nutrition: One slice of sprouted bread has 5 g protein, 71 kcal, and no fat.
Peanuts aren’t nuts in the truest sense of the word — they’re actually legumes. Legumes are high in protein. Some other nutrients in peanuts are vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese. Peanuts are also a useful source of fiber.
Peanuts can be enjoyed straight from their shells. They’re good in baked goods or as a topping for ice cream or yogurt.
Nutrition: A 1-ounce portion of shelled peanuts has 8 g protein, 170 kcal, and 15 g fat.
23. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds pack a lot of protein in a small package. They don’t contain many vitamins, but they do provide high levels of magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron.
Munch on pumpkin seeds as a snack or sprinkle a handful on a green salad.
Nutrition: 1/2 cup of roasted pumpkin seeds has 6 g protein, 143 kcal, and 6 g fat.
24. Lima beans
Lima beans are a legume, but they’re often mistaken for a vegetable. They have a lot of protein and fiber. They also have folate and other B vitamins, and almost all essential minerals.
Lima beans are most often boiled or used in bean salads.
Nutrition: 1 cup of boiled lima beans has 15 g fat, 216 kcal, and a trace of fat.
Avocados are a creamy fruit that comes from avocado trees. They’re a good source of protein, fiber, and vitamin E. They also have vitamin K, folate, and many other essential nutrients.
Avocados are great on sandwiches. Mashed, they make a healthy substitute for mayonnaise, butter, and other condiments. They’re also great in smoothies.
Nutrition: One avocado (about 7 ounces) has 4 g protein, 322 kcal, and 29.5 g fat.
Pop open a pomegranate, and you’ll find dozens of juice seeds called arils. You probably won’t eat an entire pomegranate in one sitting. But if you eat one throughout the day, you’ll up your intake of protein and other nutrients such as:
- vitamin K
- vitamin C
Pomegranates are delicious juiced. The arils are also tasty in smoothies, or sprinkled on salads or yogurt.
No matter how you enjoy them, keep a napkin handy. Eating a pomegranate is messy and the arils leave behind a bright red stain.
Nutrition: One pomegranate (4-inch diameter) has 5 g protein, 234 kcal, and 3 g fat.
27. Passion fruit
This tropical fruit is high in fiber, vitamin C, and B vitamins. It also has iron, potassium, magnesium, and most other essential minerals.
Enjoy passion fruit on its own, or in a smoothie, salad, or fruit salsa.
Passion fruit is high in carbs. If you have diabetes or are watching your carb intake, eat it in moderation.
Nutrition: 1 cup of passion fruit has 5 g protein, 229 kcal, and 1.5 g fat.
Greens are all the rage, and kale is no exception. This leafy wonder is packed with nutrition. It’s not high in protein, but it has enough to help you meet your daily requirement. Kale is off the charts in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. It also has some of every essential mineral.
Kale can be boiled, grilled, or sautéed. It’s great in smoothies or baked until crispy.
Nutrition: 1 cup of cooked kale has 2.5 g protein, 36 kcal, and a trace of fat.
29. Sweet corn
Sweet corn is a summertime barbecue staple, but you may not realize it has protein. An ear of sweet corn can help you meet your daily intake of fiber, vitamin C, and many minerals.
Sweet corn is good on its own or in soups, chowders, and salads.
Nutrition: 1 cup of cut sweet corn has 5 g protein, 143 kcal, and 2 g fat.
Don’t shy away from artichokes! They’re delicious and much easier to prepare than you may think. And they have protein, fiber, vitamin K, and many other important vitamins and minerals.
Artichokes can be stuffed, marinated, or used to make a dip. They’re also yummy grilled or sautéed.
Nutrition: One large artichoke (about 7 ounces) has 5 g protein, 76 kcal, and a trace of fat.
Protein is an essential nutrient. With so many delicious sources of protein to choose from, there’s no excuse to skimp on it.