Protein is a macronutrient that’s essential for any diet. The body requires protein for growth, repair, and building muscle. It is thought that ingesting enough protein can help the body to function optimally, by decreasing blood pressure and encouraging weight loss, among other things.
While many people use supplements like protein powder to increase their intake, there are plenty of high-protein foods that can support the diet naturally.
This article covers some of the best foods that are packed with protein, including some inspiration about how to incorporate them into your diet.
Where to Find Foods High in Protein
Protein can be found in most foods, although the quantity of it varies. Typically, people associate protein with meat, but it can also be found in high levels in plenty of other food groups. Vegetarians and vegans can also access high-protein foods without needing to consume animal products.
Checking food labels makes it easier to track how much protein you are consuming each day.
High-protein meals are thus easy to come by. Most ingredients and products will state the protein content on the packaging, so make sure to check food labels if you are seeking to increase protein intake. This makes it easier to track how much you are consuming.
In the US, the recommended daily intake (RDI) for protein is 46g for women and 56g for men each day. Fitness experts, however, may suggest eating more protein for optimal gains in the gym, which is where supplements come in.
In general, though, most people can get the protein they need from their diet.
Best Sources of Protein
Protein comes in many forms, from both meat and plant-based sources. Below, we have grouped various sources of protein into food groups to help you find the options that work best for you.
Below are some of the best dietary sources of protein. The percentages shown reflect how much of the calorie intake is protein.
High Protein Dairy Foods
Lots of dairy foods are high in protein, especially because they come from animal sources. Dairy protein is high-quality and perfect for consumption on a daily basis.
1. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is just one type of cheese that’s high in protein, but it’s a particularly great source. Alongside protein, it offers vitamin B12, riboflavin, and nutrients like phosphorus and calcium.
Notably, cottage cheese can be high in fat, which makes it less healthy than other options. Choose low-fat cottage cheese where possible to make a healthier switch.
Protein content: 28g per cup; 69% protein
Food inspiration: Serve as a side dish, with salads, or mix into pancake batter instead of milk
2. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a specific kind of yogurt that has a thick, creamy texture and a slightly sour taste. It is packed full of nutrients and contains less lactose than milk. As a result, those with a mild lactose intolerance may be okay with Greek yogurt. Some products contain added sugar, so opt for great value Greek yogurt nutrition from sugar-free sources.
Protein content: 17g per 6oz container; 69% protein
Food inspiration: Combine two high-protein foods by making Turkish eggs with Greek yogurt, or use it as a substitute for sour cream
For mammals, milk is essential. It contains almost all the nutrients that the body requires. Milk’s nutrition profile is fantastic, as it contains B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and more. It’s not super high in calories, and there are fat-free options available for those concerned about fat intake.
Of course, milk is not ideal for those with allergies or lactose intolerance, but there are other plant-based options with a decent protein content.
Protein content: 8g per cup; 21% protein
Food inspiration: Add milk to bowls of cereal and cups of coffee or tea; it’s the easiest one to work into your diet daily
High Protein Seafood
Fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein. As animal sources, they contain plenty of protein per serving. The specific content varies depending on the ingredient, so consult a seafood protein chart to discover the best protein sources or read our best picks below.
All types of fish contain protein in some form. The specific content and nutritional benefits vary depending on the species. Oily fish, including salmon, is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a range of potential benefits. Other species are much less fatty, containing less fat than meat but almost as much protein.
Fish protein is an excellent part of a healthy, varied diet.
Protein content: Variable. Salmon contains 85g per 3oz serving; 22% protein
Food inspiration: Serve roasted fish fillets on top of heart grains such as quinoa and lentils, alongside vegetables like asparagus for a satisfying, healthy meal.
Shrimp, or prawns, is a high-protein seafood. Compared to other fish, shrimp is low in calories and relatively low in fat. It still contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The protein in shrimp is accompanied by nutrients including selenium and B12.
Different types of prawns are variably sustainable. Choose coldwater or northern prawns for the best choice.
Protein content: 20g per 3oz serving; 97% protein
Food inspiration: Shrimp goes great in Asian-inspired dishes with a sticky sauce. Try sweet chilli shrimp with noodles and stir-fried veg.
One of the most popular kinds of fish is tuna. It is a low-fat fish that doesn’t contain a lot of calories but is packed with plenty of protein. Despite being low in fat, tuna also contains omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna protein is high-quality on account of its other nutrients. However, tuna is overfished in some areas, so be careful where you source it from.
Protein content: 27g per can; 84% protein
Food inspiration: Mix cold, tinned tuna into salads or pasta bakes to add salty, fishy flavor.
High Protein Legumes
Legumes are a plant-based source that tends to host a decent quantity of protein. There are several legumes high in protein, including ones that are really easy to add to your diet.
One of the best legumes for protein is lentils. They are an excellent plant-based protein source, packed with fiber, potassium, iron, copper, folate, and magnesium. Many vegetarians and vegans opt for lentils as a base ingredient in meals, even using it as a meat replacement in dishes like lentil bolognese.
Protein content: 18g per cooked cup; 31% protein
Food inspiration: Lentils work great in salads, stews, and tomato soups.
Soybeans come in numerous forms. Edamame (immature soybeans), tofu, miso, and tempeh are all forms of soybeans. The protein in soybeans can vary depending on how you consume it, as can the other nutrients. Fermented soybean products like tempeh and miso are excellent for gut health.
Protein content: Varies. 8g per 100g in tofu; 22% protein
Food inspiration: Make a delicious ramen broth and add fried tofu cubes for an extra crunch. If you aren’t vegetarian, tofu pairs well with shrimp in a pad Thai.
Technically, peanuts are not nuts. They belong to the same family as peas, which makes them legumes. Peas themselves are high in protein, containing slightly more than a cup of milk. The protein in peanuts is at a similar level, making them a popular option for protein intake. Similarly, peanut butter is popular among vegans as a way to consume more protein.
Notably, peanuts are not suitable for those with a nut allergy.
Protein content: 7g per ounce; 18% protein
Food inspiration: Spread a generous helping of peanut butter onto a bagel for a protein-packed breakfast.
Chickpeas, a.k.a garbanzo beans, are a great source of vegetarian protein. They contain a quality of plant-based protein that may be better than other legumes because they contain almost all the essential amino acids. They only lack methionine. Chickpeas protein is thus an incredible source of plant-based protein for vegetarians and vegans.
Protein content: 3g per ounce; 19% protein
Food inspiration: Prepare a saucy chickpea and potato curry for a vegetarian meal packed with protein
High Protein Vegetables
Surprisingly, some vegetables are a great source. Protein-rich vegetables are actually abundant, but here are two of the best options.
33% of the calories in broccoli come from protein. Alongside that, broccoli is filled with vitamins including C and K, as well as potassium and fiber. Broccoli also contains a multitude of other healthy nutrients.
Protein content: 3g per cup; 33% protein
Food inspiration: Serve boiled broccoli alongside other ingredients like mashed potatoes and meats.
2. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a relative of broccoli, so it’s unsurprising that they’re both packed with protein. Although controversial in terms of taste, they are undoubtedly healthy, containing fiber, vitamin C, and more. Brussels sprouts protein may not be everyone’s go-to, but they’re a solid choice.
Protein content: 2g per cup; 28% protein
Food inspiration: Serve with a roast dinner, or wrap them in bacon to disguise the taste.
High Protein Meats
Meats are what most people think of when considering protein. The highest protein meat by weight is chicken, though lots of other cuts contain plenty of this essential macronutrient.
1. Chicken Breast
Bodybuilders often swear by chicken breast and that’s because it’s filled with protein. When eating chicken without the skin, the majority of the calories come from protein. Organic chicken breast’s nutrition profile does not have much to speak of other than the protein content, although roughly 20% of the calories come from fat.
Protein content: 53g per breast; 75% protein
Food inspiration: Chicken is versatile. Serve a cooked chicken breast with rice for a basic meal, or stuff it with cheddar and spinach and wrap it in bacon for something fancier.
2. Turkey Breast
Although similar to chicken, turkey breast differs because it is leaner. It contains fewer calories and is less fatty than chicken, but possesses many of the same vitamins and minerals. One serving contains roughly 125 calories, compared to 284 in chicken. The protein in turkey breast is thus preferable for those on a low-calorie diet.
Protein content: 26g per serving; 82% protein
Food inspiration: Roast a turkey breast and serve alongside herby greens with a gravy sauce.
3. Lean Beef
The protein in lean beef is excellent because it is accompanied by highly bioavailable iron. Beef, in general, is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and other nutrients. With few carbohydrates to speak of, lean beef is a great option for those on a low-carb diet.
Protein content: 25g per 3oz serving; 53% protein
Food inspiration: Grill a lean beef steak with a light amount of pepper, and serve with new potatoes and peppercorn sauce.
High Protein Nuts
The protein in nuts is ideal for vegetarians and vegans, though not suitable for those with allergies. Different varieties contain varying amounts of protein.
Almonds are a tree nut. The protein in almonds is decent and comes alongside a variety of essential nutrients including vitamin E, manganese, fiber, and magnesium.
Protein content: 6g per ounce; 15% protein
Food inspiration: Add flaked almonds to North African dishes like tabbouleh or pilaf.
The protein in pistachios is accompanied by healthy sodium and potassium, two nutrients lost via the sweat during exercise. Thus, pistachios are great for those who work out a lot.
Protein content: 6g per 50 nuts; 13% protein
Food inspiration: Whip up a fruity couscous and rake some pistachio nuts through it for a tasty side dish.
Cashews are packed full of nutrients, including 67% of an adult’s copper RDI, as well as magnesium and manganese. The protein in cashews is less than that in almonds and pistachios, but they’re still a great plant-based protein source.
Protein content: 5g per ounce; 11% protein
Food inspiration: Soak cashews and blend them to make a cashew paste that’s ideal for adding to soups and curry sauces.
Other Sources of Protein
There is a vast variety of other sources that don’t fit neatly into the above categories. Here are some other good sources of protein that you can easily add to your diet.
Whole eggs are regarded as one of the most nutritious foods available. Alongside eggs’ protein content, they provide antioxidants that are beneficial for eye health and a variety of vitamins and minerals that help the brain. Furthermore, they contain healthy fats.
Egg whites contain almost pure protein, but the yolks are still nutritionally valuable.
Protein content: 6g per large egg; 33% protein
Food inspiration: Spice up scrambled eggs on toast by whisking chili flakes into the egg mixture. Or, scramble them as normal and top with pomegranate for a Lebanese-inspired finish.
Oats are a type of grain, packed with healthy fibers alongside magnesium, manganese, thiamine, and more. They are also surprisingly high in protein, which is why porridge is so nutritionally valuable.
Protein content: 11g per cup; 14% protein
Food inspiration: Make protein pancakes by blending oats, banana, and milk (or plant-based alternative) to make a batter. Top with peanut butter.
Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal, and it may also be a superfood. It’s packed full of antioxidants that give it various health benefits, as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Quinoa protein is one of the rare plant-based sources to contain eleven amino acids.
Protein content: 8g per cooked cup; 15% protein
Food inspiration: Make baked protein cups by mixing cooked quinoa, whisked eggs, and chopped ham and mushrooms. Bake them in a muffin tin to make a protein-packed snack.
4. Ezekiel Bread
Although technically a type of bread, Ezekiel bread is unique. It is made using sprouted grains and legumes; the sprouting may boost the content of essential nutrients. The protein in Ezekiel bread is much higher than in other loaves, and it may also contain additional fiber.
Protein content: 4g per slice; 20% protein
Food inspiration: Pack a turkey sandwich for lunch using Ezekiel bread instead of a normal bloomer.
5. Whey Protein Supplements
For those who do not feel they are getting enough dietary protein, whey supplements are a great alternative source. Whey is separated from milk during the cheese-making process, and it’s high in protein. Whey isolate protein is thus a popular gym supplement, but it’s not vegan-friendly. Plant-based alternatives include pea and soy protein.
Protein content: 20-50g per serving; 90% protein
Food inspiration: Drink a protein shake or add the powder to smoothies.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
The seeds of pumpkins are edible, and they’re super nutritious too. The protein in pumpkin seeds is impressively higher than in some nuts. They also contain numerous nutrients, including magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Protein content: 9g per ounce; 22% protein
Food inspiration: Scatter pumpkin seeds on top of a cream cheese and avocado bagel or use them in baking.
Summary on High Protein Foods
Protein is essential for the human body. It can help you to build muscle, lose weight, and recover after injuries. There are a multitude of protein sources from a variety of dietary food groups, making it easy to incorporate enough into your diet.
Check out some of the high-protein meals in the WayofLeaf recipe section for more inspiration.