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15 Best Sources of Natural Protein

Proteins are a large category of molecules that support cell structure, immune function, movement, chemical reactions, hormone synthesis, and more. They’re all made up of tiny building blocks called amino acids. Nine of these are essential–meaning your body needs them but can’t make them on its own, so you need to get them in your diet. Not only is protein essential for your health but consuming it can keep you feeling full and satisfied, which supports a healthy body weight.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is set at 0.36 grams (g) of protein per pound of your body weight (0.8 g per kilogram). Remember that this reflects the minimum protein required to meet your body’s needs.

Here are 16 delicious foods that are high in protein:

1. Eggs

Whole eggs are a good source of protein that’s easy to absorb, and they’re also an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Remember that egg whites are almost pure protein, but whole eggs that include the yolk provide many more nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.

One large egg (50 g) provides 6.3 g of protein.

4. Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is a type of cheese that is low in fat and calories yet high in protein. It’s rich in calcium, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin B12, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and various other nutrients.

One cup (226 g) of cottage cheese provides 28 g of protein.

Other high-protein cheeses include cheddar cheese, which provides 3.96 g of protein per 17-g slice, and mozzarella, which provides 6.29 g of protein per 1 ounce (28.35 g).

7. Lentils

Lentils are among the richest sources of plant-based protein, making them an excellent choice if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plus, they’re loaded with other nutrients, too, including fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, and manganese.

100 g (about 1/2 cup) of cooked lentils provides 9.02 g of protein.

Other high-protein legumes include chickpeas, which provide 7.05 g of protein per 100 g cooked, and black beans, which provide 8.86 g of protein per 100 g cooked.

10. Protein powders

When you’re pressed for time and unable to prepare a meal, protein powder can come in handy.

You can easily add protein powders like and pea protein to shakes, smoothies, energy balls, yogurt, and more to increase the protein and fullness factor.

Whey protein powder provides about 16.6 g of protein per scoop (28.6 g), while pea protein provides 15 g of protein per scoop (20 g)

Note that the protein content per scoop differs between products, even when the scoop size is the same.

13. Turkey breast

Turkey breast consists mostly of protein, with very little fat and few calories. It also contains several vitamins and minerals, including selenium, zinc, and vitamins B12 and B6.

A 3-ounce (85-g) serving of turkey provides 25.6 g of protein.

2. Almonds

Almonds are a nutritious tree nut rich in essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium. They’re also high in plant-based protein. Eating almonds may benefit your health in several ways, including lowering heart disease risk factors like high LDL (bad) cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

One ounce (28.35 g) of almonds provides 6 g of protein. Other high-protein nuts include pistachios, which deliver 5.73 g per 1-ounce (28.35 g) serving, and cashews, which contain 4.34 g of protein per 1-ounce (28.35-g) serving.

5. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt, also called strained yogurt, is a very thick type of yogurt high in protein. It has a creamy texture and is a good source of many nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin A, selenium, and zinc.

One 7-ounce (200-g) container provides 19.9 g.

Other yogurt products that are high in protein include unsweetened low-fat yogurt, which provides 11.9 g of protein per 8-ounce (227-g) container, and kefir, which provides 9.21 g of protein per 1 cup (243 mL).

8. Fish 

Fish is an excellent source of protein and provides several important vitamins and minerals, like iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12.

People who include a lot of fish in their diet tend to have a lower risk of health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, fatty fish like salmon and herring are high in omega-3 fats, which have powerful benefits for your overall health, including supporting heart health.

All types of fish are high in protein. For example, half a salmon fillet (124 g) provides 30.5 g of protein, while a cod fillet (180 g) provides 41 g of protein.

11. Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread is different from most other breads. It’s made of organic and sprouted whole grains and legumes, including millet, barley, spelled, wheat, soybeans, and lentils.

Ezekiel bread is high in protein, fiber, and various important nutrients than other breads, like white bread.

One slice (50 g) of Ezekiel bread provides 6 g of protein.

However, remember that the exact nutritional content of Ezekiel bread will vary between products.

14. Shellfish

Shellfish, including shrimp, oysters, clams, and scallops are excellent sources of protein. Plus, shellfish contain healthy fats and several vitamins and minerals, including selenium, zinc, vitamin B12, and iron.

A 3-ounce (85-g) serving of cooked clams provides 21.8 g of protein, while the same serving of shrimp provides 20.4 g of protein.

3. Chicken breast

Chicken breast is an excellent choice if you’re trying to increase your protein intake. In addition to protein, chicken provides a variety of B vitamins, plus minerals like zinc and selenium.

One half of a chicken breast (86 g) provides 26.7 g of protein.

6. Milk

Dairy milk contains a little of nearly every nutrient that your body needs. It’s a good source of high-quality protein, and it’s high in vitamins and minerals, like calcium, phosphorus, and riboflavin (vitamin B2). Many people with lactose intolerance can’t tolerate milk and other dairy products, and they avoid many dairy-containing foods.

One cup (246 mL) of dairy milk provides 8.32 g of protein.

9. Quinoa

Quinoa is rich in fiber, folate, copper, iron, and zinc, and it’s higher in protein than many grains.

Quinoa is often referred to as a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own. However, it contains insufficient amounts of certain amino acids, like leucine.

One cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa provides 8 g of protein.

12. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of minerals like iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. Plus, they’re loaded with plant-based protein and fiber. Try adding pumpkin seeds to salads, baked goods, oatmeal, or yogurt, or mix them with unsweetened dried fruit and almonds for a convenient snack.

A 1/4 cup (29.5 g) of pumpkin seeds provides 8.8 g of protein. 

Other high-protein seeds include sunflower seeds, which provide 7.25 g per 1/4-cup (35-g) serving, and flax seeds, which provide 7.5 g of protein per 1/4-cup (42-g) serving.

15. Peanuts and peanut butter

Peanuts and peanut butter are packed with nutrients like protein, folate, magnesium, and vitamin E. Eating peanuts and peanut butter may help make you feel full due to their high protein content. Studies show that adding peanut butter to a high-carb meal may help reduce blood sugar spikes after the meal.

A 1-ounce (28.35-g) serving of peanuts provides 7.31 g of protein, while a 2-tablespoon (32-g) serving of smooth peanut butter provides 7.2 g of protein.

The bottom line

Getting enough protein daily is essential for health.

People’s protein needs vary. However, experts recommend most active people consume 0.54–0.9 g of protein per pound of their body weight (1.2–2 g per kg) per day. 

Fortunately, there are many high-protein foods to choose from, including animal and plant-based sources.

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