Elevate Your Nutrition with These 12 Protein-Rich Foods
In the world of nutrition, few things are as potent as protein. It's an essential nutrient that fuels our bodies, repairs tissues, and builds muscle — but you may not be getting enough in your diet.
Whether you’re trying to rack up weights in the gym, slim down this season, or simply boost your overall health, you should make protein a priority in your diet.
Read on to learn about the science behind protein, what “complete” and “incomplete” proteins are, and which foods you should eat to up your protein intake and improve your health.
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient found throughout the body — in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other tissue. It’s made up of over 20 amino acids, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Because we don’t store the amino acids that make up protein, our bodies make them in two different ways: either from scratch or by modifying others.
Nine of the 20 amino acids are made by the body; the other nine (called the “essential amino acids”) must come from food. This is why protein-packed foods are essential to your health.
Protein’s Role in the Body
Protein serves a number of functions, including:
- Growing and maintaining tissues
- Starting biochemical reactions, like digestion and blood clotting
- Regulating hormones
- Promoting healthy skin, hair, and nails
- Regulating pH levels in the body
- Balancing fluids in the body
- Supporting immune health
- Transporting and storing nutrients
- Supplying energy
If you want to support these processes and ensure optimal health, make sure that you’re getting enough protein — and that you’re getting it in the right combinations.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Not all proteins are created equal. In general, there are two kinds: complete and incomplete proteins. Here’s the difference, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
“A food is considered a complete protein when it contains all nine essential amino acids that our body can’t produce on its own. By comparison, incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids, and in various amounts.”
Examples of complete proteins are:
- Whole sources of soy (like tofu, edamame, tempeh, and miso)
Examples of incomplete proteins are:
- Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils)
- Whole grains
Complete proteins tend to be animal-based, and incomplete proteins tend to be more vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. The Cleveland Clinic recommends combining protein sources every day to get all of your essential amino acids.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.
- For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.
- For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.
This is just a minimum, however. Many healthcare professionals recommend adults increase their protein intake even more, depending on their levels of activity and fitness goals.
Dr. Peter Attia, a longevity researcher and author of Outlive, recommends that adults consume up to one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- For a 140-pound person, that means about 140 grams of protein each day.
- For a 200-pound person, that means about 200 grams of protein each day.
Calculate your protein intake by using this calculator from the USDA — and if you’re unsure about which recommendation to follow, talk to your doctor or local pharmacist.
12 Protein-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
- Chicken breast: Chicken breast is a low-fat source of high-quality protein. It's rich in essential amino acids, making it a staple for muscle repair and growth. One-half of a chicken breast provides 27 grams of protein.
- Turkey breast: Similar to chicken, turkey is lean and boasts a protein content that aids in muscle development. It also contains several vitamins and minerals, including selenium, zinc, and vitamins B12 and B6. A three-ounce serving of turkey offers 25.6 grams of protein.
- Fish: All types of fish are high in protein. Half a salmon filet provides 30.5 grams of protein, for example, while a cod filet provides 41 grams of protein.
- Almonds: Almonds are not only protein-packed but also contain healthy fats, fiber, and vitamin E, supporting skin health. One ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein.
- Eggs: Eggs are a complete protein source rich in choline, aiding brain health and metabolism. One egg contains 6.3 grams of protein.
- Cottage cheese: A slow-digesting protein, cottage cheese is ideal for sustained energy and muscle recovery. One cup of cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein.
- Greek yogurt: Packed with protein and probiotics, Greek yogurt supports gut health and provides calcium for strong bones. One 7-ounce container of Greek yogurt provides 20 grams of protein.
- Lentils: High in protein and fiber, lentils stabilize blood sugar levels and promote digestive health. 1/2 cup of lentils provides 9 grams of protein.
- Quinoa: A complete protein, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, along with vitamins and minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein.
- Ezekiel bread: Ezekiel bread is a type of bread that contains sprouted whole grains and legumes, including millet, barley, spelt, wheat, soybeans, and lentils. One slice of Ezekiel bread contains 6 grams of protein.
- Peanut butter: Peanuts and peanut butter are packed with nutrients like protein, folate, magnesium, and vitamin E. two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 7.2 grams of protein.
- Protein powder: Protein powder is a great way to up your protein intake when you’re pressed for time. There are two kinds of protein powder: whey and pea protein. Whey is an animal-based protein powder, and pea protein is a plant-based powder. Whey protein powder provides about 16.6 g of protein per scoop, while pea protein provides 15 g of protein per scoop. However, different brands of protein offer different protein values per scoop. You can find protein powder at your local supermarket or pharmacy.
Protein is an important part of everyone’s diet, but it’s especially important if you’re looking to lose fat, build muscle, and increase your metabolism.
There are many types of proteins, including complete and incomplete proteins. From meat and dairy to grains and legumes, you have many options to choose from. Next time you make your grocery list, don’t forget to add these foods.
Your body – and your fitness goals – will thank you for it.