In case you didn’t already know, getting enough protein on a daily basis is critical for your health. You may not realize it, but what you think of as “protein” is actually just a category of molecules that provide structure/support for your cells and are required for things like hormone synthesis, movement, immune function, chemical reactions, and so much more.
They are composed of amino acids, especially the 9 essential amino acids. These are the ones that your body needs but can’t produce on its own so you have to obtain them through dietary sources.
There are several factors that are involved in determining how much protein you need to consume on a daily basis:
- Body size
- Pregnancy status
- Activity levels
Some people do have higher protein requirements than others- but no matter what your personal protein requirements, it’s important that you make sure you’re getting enough by consuming foods that are high in protein content.
Protein is not only critical for your health but also the most filling macronutrient. When you consume it, you feel full and satiated, which means you can maintain a healthy body weight. At this time, the current RDA, or recommended daily allowance, for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. Of course, it’s important to note that this is the minimum protein requirement to meet your needs.
If you are active, older, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, your RDA is much higher than this. According to the experts, individuals who are physically active need 0.54 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Fortunately, it’s easy to meet your needs when you include plenty of protein-rich foods in your diet. Below, we’ll explore 16 delicious high protein foods.
Reasons Protein is Important
As we have mentioned, protein is critical for your overall health and well-being. You have to take the initiative to make sure you’re getting the recommended daily allowance of protein. Here are a few reasons to add more protein to your diet:
Reduces Appetite/Hunger Levels
There are three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. They have different effects on your body. Studies have proven that protein is the most filling. It helps you be full with less food. This is because protein reduces the level of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, and increases peptide YY, which is the hormone that makes you feel full. This has a powerful effect on your appetite. If you are trying to lose weight, replace carbs and fats with protein.
Increases Muscle Mass/Strength
Did you know that protein is what makes up your muscles? This means that consuming high amounts of protein helps maintain current muscle mass and grow more when engaging in strength training. There are lots of studies that show how protein increases muscle mass/strength.
If you are physically active and/or trying to build muscle, you need to make sure you’re consuming adequate protein. Also, by consuming adequate protein, you can prevent losing muscle when losing weight.
Beneficial for Bone Health
There is a myth going around stating that protein (primarily animal protein) is bad for bones. This is based on the belief that protein increases acid in the body and, in order to neutralize the acid, calcium is pulled from your bones. However, most of the studies indicate that protein is actually beneficial for bone health.
Individuals who eat adequate amounts of protein have a lower risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture because they maintain bone mass as they age. This is critical for women who have a high risk of developing osteoporosis after menopause.
Reduces Cravings/Late-Night Snacking Habits
A craving is different from hunger. It’s not that your body needs the energy or nutrients- your brain simply needs a reward. We all have them and they can be really hard to get under control. The best way to get over them is to prevent them. The best way to prevent cravings is to increase your protein consumption.
In one study, researchers looked at overweight men and learned that increasing protein consumption to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60% and late-night snacking habits were reduced by 50%.
Another study looked at overweight teen girls. Those who ate a high-protein breakfast had less cravings and were less likely to engage in late-night snacking.
This is likely due to the fact that protein increases dopamine production, which is one of the hormones involved in addiction and cravings.
Improves Metabolism/Increases Fat Burning
When you eat, your metabolism is boosted for a while because your body uses calories to digest and utilize food. This is the thermic effect of food, or TEF. That being said, all foods are not equal. The thermic effect of protein is much higher than that of carbs or fat.
High protein consumption significantly improves metabolism and increases the number of calories you are able to burn. This can end up being 80 to 100 more calories burned daily.
Some research suggests that you may be able to burn even more calories than that. In one study, participants were put in a high-protein group or a low-protein group. At the end of the study, the results were that the high-protein group actually burned 260 more calories daily than the low-protein group. This is equivalent to 1 hour of moderate exercise daily. If you can burn calories by eating instead of working out, why would you not take advantage of that?
Lowers Blood Pressure
Medical experts have proven that high blood pressure is one of the major contributors to chronic kidney disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Studies have shown that increasing your protein consumption can lower your blood pressure, decreasing your risk of these, and other, health conditions.
One review looked at 40 controlled trials and it was discovered that by increasing protein consumption, patients were able to lower systolic blood pressure (top number) by an average of 1.76 mm Hg. Their diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) was reduced by an average of 1.15 mm Hg.
Another study revealed that protein not only lowered blood pressure, but also reduced LDL and triglycerides.
16 Protein-Rich Foods
The best way to increase your protein consumption is to add protein-rich foods to your diet. Here are 16 foods that you can include in your diet to ensure that you are getting the RDA of protein.
Most people think that peanuts are nuts- but the truth is, they are legumes. Both peanuts and peanut butter are full of nutrients, including:
- Vitamin E
Consuming peanuts or peanut butter helps you feel full because of the protein content. In fact, studies have proven that including peanut butter as part of a high carb meal can actually reduce blood sugar spikes following the meal. For example, a little peanut butter on a slice of bread keeps you satiated and keeps blood glucose stable.
- A 1-oz serving of peanuts has 7.31 grams protein
- A 2-tablespoon serving of smooth peanut butter has 7.2 grams protein
Cottage cheese is high in protein, but low in calories and fat. It is also high in other vitamins and nutrients, including:
- Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B-12
Research indicates that cottage cheese is just as satiating as eggs, which means it’s ideal for a meal or snack. Add some fruit for a protein-packed, on-the-go breakfast.
- 1 cup of cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein
There are some other cheeses that are high in protein, including:
- 17-gram slice of Cheddar offers 3.96 grams protein
- 1-ounce of Mozzarella offers 6.29 grams of protein
One of the most nutritious foods you can find are whole eggs. They are an ideal source of easy to absorb protein and are also packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, and plenty of vitamins and minerals- including:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin A
Choline plays a vital role in growth and development, so it is especially critical during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Egg whites are basically pure protein- which is fine if you’re just trying to increase your protein intake. However, the yolks are where the rest of the nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins & minerals, and healthy fats are found.
In the past, it was said that eggs were high in cholesterol, and therefore bad for you- but there has been lots of research over the years that has proven that to be false. Eggs are actually very healthy and may even help with preventing some chronic conditions.
- 1 large egg contains 6.3 grams of protein
According to nutrition experts, milk contains a little bit of all the nutrients your body needs. It is a great source of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as:
- Vitamin B-2
Many people who are lactose intolerant are unable to consume milk or other dairy products, so they avoid them. That being said, there are plenty of lactose-free options on the market, including milks, yogurts, and cheeses.
However, it’s important to note that though the non-dairy alternatives to milk, such as coconut milk or cashew milk, are decent alternatives to milk, they don’t have as much protein and don’t have the other nutrients.
Drinking dairy milk, including lactose-free options, is a great way to boost your protein intake.
- 1 cup, or 246 milliliters) of dairy milk contains 8.32 grams of protein
If you’re trying to increase your protein consumption, chicken breast is another great option. Not only is chicken a great source of protein, it also contains other vitamins and minerals, such as
The best part is, it’s a versatile meat and easy to cook. It can be used in a wide variety of dishes, from traditional sliced chicken breast to soups and/or salads to tacos to stir-fry dishes. The sky is the limit. You can do whatever you like with it.
- ½ chicken breast (approximately 86 grams) offers 26.7 grams of protein
Greek yogurt, also referred to as strained yogurt, is a thick yogurt that has high protein levels. The texture is creamy and it also contains other nutrients such as
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B-12
It’s natural, slightly tart flavor works well with both savory and sweet dishes, so it’s pretty versatile as well. You can enjoy Greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts, or you can add it to baked goods, soups, smoothies, or salad dressings.
When you are buying Greek yogurt, go for the ones with no sugar added.
- 1 container (7 ounces) offers 19.9 grams of protein
There are other yogurt products that have high protein levels, including:
- Unsweet, low-fat yogurt (8 ounces) offers 11.9 grams of protein
- Kefir (1 cup/243 milliliters) offers 9.21 grams of protein
Shellfish, such as clams, scallops, shrimp, and oysters are ideal source of protein. In addition, they contain the following:
- Vitamin B-12
Shellfish can be enjoyed in recipes such as stir-fry dishes, pastas, salads, and more.
- One 3-ounce serving of cooked clams offers 21.8 grams of protein
- One 3-ounce serving of shrimp offers 20.4 grams of protein
Lean beef is high in protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin B-6
While it’s true that red meat can be included as part of a healthy diet, you want to be careful that you don’t eat too much. High amounts of red meat increases your risk of developing certain conditions, including colorectal cancer.
You might want to consider cutting back on red meat and opting for poultry, fish, and plant-based protein more often.
- One 3-ounce serving of lean beef offers 24.6 grams of protein
Pumpkin seeds are nutritious and delicious. They are packed with protein along with a variety of other vitamins and minerals:
They are a plant-based protein source. You can add them to your yogurt, oatmeal, baked goods, trail mix, or salads.
- ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds offers 8.8 grams of protein
Some other seeds that have significant protein content include:
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds offer 7.25 grams of protein
- ¼ cup of flax seeds offer 7.5 grams of protein
Fish is a great protein source and also offers other vitamins and minerals, including:
- Vitamin B-12
Individuals who include fish in their diet tend to have lower risk of health issues such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Fatty fish, such as herring or salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have amazing benefits for your overall health, including heart health.
All fish are high in protein. For example:
- ½ salmon filet offers 30.5 grams of protein
- Cod filet offers 41 grams of protein
In recent years, quinoa has become quite popular in the health and wellness world. Most people think of it as a grain, but it’s actually a seed. This is why it’s categorized as a pseudo-cereal. In addition to being high in protein, it is also high in:
It is considered a complete protein because it does contain all 9 essential amino acids that your body can’t produce on its own. The caveat is that some of the amino acid levels are low, such as lysine. Therefore, many experts say it should be labeled as a “nearly complete” instead of “complete” protein. This might be important information for you to have if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and want to make sure you’re getting all 9 of the essential amino acids.
Whether you consider it a complete protein or not, it’s still a great option for increasing protein intake and goes well in porridges, grain bowls, and soups.
- 1 cup cooked quinoa offers 8 grams of protein
Almonds are a tree nut that is high in protein, as well as the following nutrients:
- Vitamin E
This is a plant-based protein. According to experts, almonds offer a variety of health benefits, including: lowering high blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Add almonds to your plant-based meals, such as salads and grain bowls to increase protein and fiber. Also, if you want to add more nuts to your diet, pistachios and cashews are also healthy options that are full of protein.
- 1-ounce serving of almonds offers 6 grams of protein
Additionally, other nuts that are high in protein include:
- Pistachios: 1-ounce serving offers 5.73 grams of protein
- Cashews: 1-ounce serving offers 4.34 grams of protein
Lentils are one of the best plant-based proteins you can eat. This is an excellent choice for high protein intake if you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet. They are also loaded with other vitamins and minerals, including:
Research has proven that those who consume lentils and other legumes have a decreased risk of developing conditions such as fatty liver disease or heart disease.
- ½ cup of cooked lentils offers 9.02 grams of protein
Other legumes with high protein content include:
- Chickpeas: 100 grams cooked chickpeas offer 7.05 grams of protein
- Black Beans: 100 grams cooked black beans offer 8.86 grams of protein
Ezekiel bread is different from other breads. Instead of being made from white flour, it’s made from whole grains and legumes: millet, lentils, barley, soybeans, wheat, and spelt. It is much higher in protein, fiber, and other nutrients than other breads. You can make a sandwich that his packed with protein by adding turkey, lettuce, tomato, and hummus to your Ezekiel bread.
- 1 slice of Ezekiel bread offers 6 grams of protein
Turkey is a lot like chicken in several ways. First, it’s high in protein with little fat and its low in calories. It is also packed with other vitamins and minerals, including the following:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin B-6
Turkey breast is great on sandwiches and salads. Another option is to add it to your grain bowls or soups to bump up the protein content.
- 3-ounce serving of turkey offers 25.6 grams of protein
Finally, if you are short on time or can’t stop to prepare a meal, protein powders can be a great option. You will find that there is a protein powder for everyone- even those with dietary restrictions.
For example, whey and casein are sourced from dairy cows. You also have plant-based options, such as soy, pea, hemp, and more. Add protein powder to your shakes, energy balls, smoothies, yogurt, and more. This will bump up the protein content and make you feel fuller longer.
Whey protein and pea protein are the best options for those interested in a quick and easy way to add some protein to their day.
- Whey protein typically offers approximately 16.6 grams protein per scoop
- Pea protein typically offers approximately 15 grams of protein per scoop
Of course, it’s important to note that protein content does differ between products, even if the scoop size is the same. You’ll want to make sure you check the label to find out specifically how much is in the product you choose to use.
In conclusion, it is critical that you make sure you’re getting the RDA of protein. Your overall health and wellness depend on it.
While it’s true that protein needs vary from one person to another, experts agree that active individuals need approximately 0.54 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
As you can see, there are plenty of high protein foods you can consume, from both animal- and plant-based sources. Consider adding a few of these to your diet to increase your protein intake. You will be glad you did!
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