Protein is one essential nutrient to incorporate into your daily meals. Your body needs amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to build and repair muscles and bones and to produce hormones and enzymes crucial for optimal health and functioning.
Essentially, you need to get enough protein each day to help maintain or grow muscle mass, on top of keeping your bones and immune system in their optimal state.
So if you’re looking to bolster your daily meals with high-quality sources of protein, this guide will help set you on the right track. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best high-protein foods to incorporate into your dietary plan!
Healthiest High-Protein Foods to Add to Your Grocery List
When searching for healthy sources of proteins, it’s best to avoid processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, ham, or cured meat.
There’s still controversy about whether the consumption of red meats can increase the risk of heart disease. That said, too much red meat isn’t going to be heart-friendly.
A growing body of evidence shows that eating a diet high in processed meat and red meat can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease .
Let’s take a look at some healthier sources of protein and the amount of protein found in each of these foods.
- ~31 grams of protein per 100g
Chicken breast is an excellent source of lean proteins and a highly-versatile kitchen ingredient that can be easily incorporated into a wide range of meal prep recipes.
It is also a good source of selenium and B vitamins. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in the regulation of thyroid hormones, reproductive health, and protection from oxidative damage and infections .
Meanwhile, B vitamins are important to maintain cardiovascular health and the optimal functioning of your nervous system and immune system.
- ~20g of protein per 100g
Packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, salmon is widely known to be one of the most nutritious foods to include in your diet. This fatty fish is loaded with key nutrients, including selenium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and phosphorus.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce cardiovascular disease risk and can be useful in combatting inflammatory conditions . Meanwhile, phosphorus is a key player in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth.
Of course, the nutritional value of different varieties may differ slightly from one to another. For instance, wild-caught salmon is likely higher in proteins, while farmed salmon may contain slightly more healthy fats.
- ~13g of protein per 100g
Eggs have a high protein content and contain a decent amount of heart-friendly unsaturated fats. They also deliver impressive amounts of vitamin A, B vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
One of the biggest concerns people have about eating eggs is the fact that they’re high in cholesterol. This is true, but the cholesterol in eggs does not seem to raise blood cholesterol levels as significantly as other foods like saturated fats do.
- ~26g of protein per 100g
As a rich source of B vitamins, zinc, iron, and selenium, lean beef is typically the healthier choice if you wish to incorporate some form of red meat into your diet.
Lean beef contains far less saturated fats, and data suggests that lean beef doesn’t need to be eliminated from a cholesterol-lowering diet. In fact, they’re not any more likely to raise your cholesterol levels compared to chicken or fish .
Furthermore, some research has even found that lean beef may be helpful in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol and increasing the levels of good cholesterol .
- ~9g of protein per cup
Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink loaded with probiotics, which are good bacteria that have a positive effect on digestion, gut health, and overall well-being. This milk drink is also rich in protein and other nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and B vitamins.
If you’re looking for a protein-rich drink that doubles up as a gut-health supplement, you can purchase kefir from your local grocer or even make your own DIY version at home.
- ~11g protein per 100g
Cottage cheese is low in calories, highly nutritious, and suitable for various kinds of weight loss or muscle-building diets. Some of the most prominent nutrients found in cottage cheese include selenium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, and folate.
Cottage cheese is an excellent protein source, seeing how most of its calories are attributed to protein.
There are different types of cottage cheese, including higher-fat and low-fat versions, as well as lower-sodium and sodium-free varieties.
- ~9g of protein per 100g
Lentils are edible seeds that come from legume plants. If you’re looking for an affordable, plant-based source of protein, lentils are great alternatives to meat and dairy products.
Aside from being rich in protein, lentils are also packed with essential nutrients and vitamins, such as B vitamins, iron, potassium, zinc, and folate. Plus, they’re high in fibre, making them a fantastic ingredient to incorporate into your diet to promote healthy gut and bowel movements.
Lentils are versatile meal prep ingredients and can be used to whip up different cuisines, including soups, salads, and stews.
Chickpeas and black beans are other fantastic sources of plant-based proteins that belong to the legume family.
- ~19g of protein per 100g
Chickpeas are a great source of plant-based proteins, delivering all of the essential amino acids you need except for methionine.
They help maintain satiety and support bone health, weight management, and appetite control. Plus, this legume contains a host of nutrients such as fibre, folate, iron, zinc, and manganese. Manganese is essential for blood sugar regulation, bone formation, and immune system functioning .
All in all, chickpeas are not only a nutritional powerhouse but also a rich source of proteins that can be incorporated into soups, stews, sandwiches, and pasta. It’s also the main ingredient in a popular dip called hummus.
- ~10g of protein in 100g
Also known as strained or concentrated yoghurt, Greek yoghurt is made by removing whey and other liquids from normal yoghurt. This creates a thicker and richer consistency that is higher in proteins and other nutrients compared to regular yoghurt.
This variation of yoghurt is loaded with protein, B vitamins, vitamin A, phosphorus, and potassium.
Research has found that consuming Greek yoghurt may be linked to various health benefits, such as less weight gain and lower body fat . Apart from that, another study found that consuming Greek yoghurt while carrying out resistance training may be associated with improved strength, greater muscle thickness, and better body composition .
Greek yoghurt can be used to substitute cream in soups. It can also be incorporated into cake recipes, dessert bowls, smoothies, and pasta sauce.
- ~11g of protein per 100g
Rich in antioxidants, fibre, and protein, edamame is another easy and highly-versatile ingredient to incorporate into a high-protein diet.
Edamame contains a relatively high quantity of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
You can enjoy edamame with a pinch of salt or add it to stews or soups.
- ~8g of protein per cup
Deemed a “superfood,” quinoa is a type of whole grain that can be prepared and eaten like other grains such as rice or barley. It is a gluten-free source of carbs with a relatively low glycemic index, which means that it is less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar levels after consumption.
It’s also high in proteins and fibres and loaded with minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, iron, folate, zinc, and magnesium. Since quinoa contains a much higher amount of the essential acid methionine compared to chickpeas, cereals, and beans, it pairs well with these other plant-based sources of protein .
Pistachios (and Other Nuts)
- 20g of protein per 100g
Pistachios are one of the most nutritious foods to incorporate into a healthy diet. They are rich in protein and fibre and deliver high quantities of antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 is involved in blood sugar regulation, immune function, and the formation of haemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen throughout your body.
Some other high-protein nuts to add to your diet include almonds, cashews, walnuts, and Brazil nuts.
Pumpkin seeds (and Other Seeds)
- ~19g of protein per 100g
Packed with protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, magnesium, and zinc, pumpkin seeds are associated with numerous health benefits, such as supporting heart health, digestive health, and reproductive health.
There are various ways you can incorporate pumpkin seeds into your diet. For instance, you can add them to your smoothies, granola, yoghurt, salads, soups, or pasta.
Some other seeds that are high in protein include flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds.
Tempeh (Fermented Soybeans)
- ~19g of protein per 100g
Tempeh is a kind of traditional food that’s made from the fermentation of soybeans.
This popular meat substitute is rich in proteins, probiotics, and minerals and low in carbohydrates and sodium. It’s also a great source of calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese.
You can incorporate tempeh into your diet by adding it to sandwiches and salads or using it as a meat substitute in different dishes like curries.
Are protein powders and protein shakes healthy sources of proteins?
Protein shakes and powders are great ways to supplement your dietary intake of protein. They may help support muscle gain, appetite control, and weight loss and may be part of your fitness regimen, whether that’s bodybuilding or weight loss.
That said, some brands include high amounts of sugars and additives in their protein powders and shakes. When purchasing a protein shake, try to look for products with low added sugars.
Should I add peanut butter to my high-protein diet?
Peanut butter is decently high in nutrients and a protein source that you can consider. It contains fibre and minerals such as vitamin E, B vitamins, folate, and magnesium. However, peanut butter does have a high calorie load, so it’s best to consume it in moderation.
Is turkey breast a good source of proteins?
There are about 29 grams of protein in 100g of turkey breast. Chicken breast has a slightly higher protein content compared to turkey breast, but both types of lean meat are low in saturated fats and calories. Thus, you can incorporate chicken and turkey breast as part of your high-protein diet.
Final Takeaway: Best High-Protein Foods for a Balanced Diet
There is a broad range of both animal and plant-based proteins to choose from when meal-prepping as part of a high-protein, healthy diet. Instead of sticking to a single source of protein, try to mix and match different kinds of high-protein foods to ensure that you get a sufficient amount of all the essential amino acids.
It’s also a great idea to spread your protein intake across the day. For instance, you can have Greek yoghurt with fruits and nuts for breakfast and grilled chicken breast with rice for dinner. Spreading your protein intake across the day allows your body to utilize the protein consumed more effectively compared to having all your protein in one sitting.
Of course, before making any drastic changes to your diet, it’s best to consult your dietitian or doctor.