Which food is rich in protein? Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body. It provides the basic material for growth and repair of tissues in the body. Protein is the building block of many important elements within the human body. Your muscles, bones, ligaments, skin, hair and digestive tract are all made with protein. The most popular sources of protein are meats, dairy products and nuts.
What can protein do for you?
When you eat protein, the amino acids that are present are the “building blocks of life,” explains Harbstreet. This means they help perform essential functions throughout the body, like building and repairing muscle tissue and acting as enzymes, hormones, buffers, transporters, and regulators, she says. Additionally, when protein is incorporated into snacks and meals, it helps keep you feeling full and satisfied, she adds.
How much protein do you need?
This can vary greatly depending on your age, gender, body weight, and lifestyle, Harbstreet says. “That could range from as little as 10 to 15 grams per snack, up to more than 30 grams per meal. It’s best to personalize your intake to your unique needs, which is something a registered dietitian can help you with,” she says.
Generally, if you feel full and satisfied after eating and in between meals, that’s a great start, Harbstreet says. But if you’re finding yourself hungry or having difficulty recovering after workouts, illness, or injuries, you may need to increase your protein intake or change up the timing you’re consuming protein-packed foods, she adds.
WHY IS EATING HIGH PROTEIN FOODS IMPORTANT?
Do we really need to eat high protein foods? Well, the short answer is, yes. Protein is a macronutrient that is responsible for building muscle mass. It’s an essential building block in the human body. Without it, our bodies can’t grow or repair.
Protein helps you maintain a healthy appetite
Several studies have shown that protein plays an important role in keeping hunger at a healthy level. One 2004 study by the American College of Nutrition(opens in new tab) showed that of the three macronutrients — protein, fat, and carbohydrates – protein is the most filling, leaving you feeling more satisfied.
Another 2006 study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition(opens in new tab) found that protein reduced levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, while simultaneously increasing levels of peptide YY, which makes the body feel full.
In other words, eating more protein can help you feel more full after a meal, so that you don’t run the risk of overeating.
Protein helps you build muscle
Protein is vital for building and maintaining muscle, hence the reason why so many dedicated gym-goers choose to take protein powder.
As a 2012 International Society of Sports Nutrition(opens in new tab) study showed, adding additional protein to your diet can help you to build more muscle at the gym. And, a 2010 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise(opens in new tab) study found that increasing protein intake can even help you maintain muscle mass when you’re trying to lose weight.
Protein increases your metabolism
A slow metabolism means that your body isn’t very efficient at breaking down the food you eat. If you want to improve your body’s digestion rate, protein can help.
One 2010 study in the British Journal of Nutrition(opens in new tab) found that a high protein diet resulted in a higher rate of fat oxidation, meaning that the diet helped people to burn (or metabolize) more fat than other types of diets.
HIGH PROTEIN FOODS TO INTEGRATE INTO YOUR DIET
It’s pretty clear that a high protein diet can have plenty of benefits. So, what are high protein foods that you can add to your favorite recipes to start getting all of the benefits?
- Greek yogurt
- Black beans
High Protein Foods That Pack More Protein Than an Egg
Balance out your carb-rich sushi rice with a side of protein-packed edamame. This green soy bean has 9 g of protein and roughly 100 calories in a ½ cup serving. What’s more, you’ll also get a dose of fiber, potassium, and vitamin A.
Power up your protein: Whip up a batch of this wasabi edamame dip from Living Well Kitchen at the beginning of the week for a hunger-squashing work snack.
Cottage cheese doesn’t get nearly enough love. At roughly 12 g of protein and 100 calories per ½ cup, it’s a satisfying midday snack and a great source of calcium. Harbstreet says she especially loves cottage cheese because it’s a high-protein dairy food that can be added to smoothies for extra thickness or a sauce for a mild flavor and creamy texture.
Power up your protein: Cottage cheese tastes great paired with fruit, but you can get creative with it. Try sneaking it into foods that are otherwise low in protein, like a cottage cheese pancake or topped on toast instead of your go-to avocado.
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Regardless, this bird is one of the most versatile lean proteins with 25 g in just 4 ounces (about the size of your palm). It can stand alone as the base of a dish or it makes a great addition to salads, soups, tacos, quesadillas, grain bowls—you name it! Harbstreet says chicken thighs are one of her most frequently used proteins for stir-frys, pasta dishes, grilling, salad, or other mixed dishes.
Power up your protein: Sick of your go-to chicken dish? Make things exciting again with one of our high-protein chicken recipes.
You can always use more protein options that don’t require any cooking, and black beans fit the bill. Keep a few cans in your cupboard so you can drain and rinse when you’re ready to add them to tacos, nachos, and soup. Each ½ cup serving has 7 g of protein, about 100 calories, and 2 milligrams (mg) of iron, making them a good option for vegetarians and vegans.
Power up your protein: Spice up the standard black bean with this chipotle pumpkin black bean burger from Sara Haas, a culinary dietitian.
This fatty fish serves up more than heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A 3-ounce serving of raw tuna has 20 grams of protein, and one can of cooked tuna has a whopping 33 grams of protein. Either way, this tasty fish should be top of mind for restaurant ordering or pantry stocking.
Power up your protein: Try your hand at making this tuna burger with wasabi slaw from Cape Fear Nutrition at home, or even better, pack a tuna and cheddar wrap for lunch.
Tofu is one of the cheapest and most malleable protein ingredients. This soy-based protein takes on the flavor of any marinade, comes in a variety of textures, and can’t be over or undercooked. A 3-ounce serving has 9 grams of protein and 90 calories, along with fiber, iron, and calcium if it’s fortified. Harbstreet says she loves that tofu comes in different varieties. Grab the silken kind and blend into soups or stews for an undetectable protein punch and extra creaminess or the firm varieties to cube up and add to dishes in place of chicken or beef.
Power up your protein: If you’ve had unappetizing tofu in the past, try these Vietnamese tofu lettuce wraps from Rachael Hartley Nutrition for a total game changer. Craving takeout instead? This sweet and sticky tofu noodle bowl or spiced tofu tacos will get the job done.
This bird isn’t just for Thanksgiving. Turkey may not get the same love as chicken, but its nutrition profile is pretty darn similar. With 25 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving, it’s a nice alternative to chicken in virtually any dish.
Power up your protein: Try something simple like this turkey tortilla soup from Teaspoon of Spice, which can be made in batches and frozen for lazy (but cozy) days.
If you’re unfamiliar, tempeh is a fermented soybean product with a chewy taste that mimics meat. It serves as the base for vegan sandwiches and makes a nice addition to Buddha bowls, with 170 calories and 16 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving. Plus, the fermentation process creates good-for-your-gut probiotics.
Power up your protein: Tempeh can serve as the focal point of any vegan dish, so try it in this vegan tempeh burger or throw it into these tempeh lettuce wraps.
It’s amazing how much protein can be packed into one snackable container. Just about 1 cup of plain low-fat Greek yogurt has a whopping 20 grams of protein for roughly 150 calories. You’ll also punch up your meal or snack with probiotics and calcium.
Power up your protein: If the taste of plain Greek yogurt is too tangy for your liking, try using it as a replacement for sour cream in savory dishes, mix it into this spinach and yogurt dip, or make your own pita toast with labneh with this recipe from Jackie Newgent, R.D.N. You can also sweeten it yourself by piling fruit on top.
Lentils pack quite the nutritional punch, with 9 grams of protein in a ½ cup cooked serving. What’s more, you’ll get 8 grams of filling fiber, 3 mg of iron, and a healthy dose of potassium for around 115 calories.
Power up your protein: Switch things up and use lentils as the base for your grain bowl, toss them onto your salad, blend them into red lentil hummus, or try a more traditional Moroccan lentil soup.
CAN YOU EAT TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
While a high protein diet certainly has plenty of benefits, a healthy diet is ultimately about balance. If you are thinking about increasing your protein intake, it’s important that you don’t overdo it. While some additional protein can help you build muscle and lose weight, too much protein can have adverse side effects.
Eating too much protein can lead to:
- Weight gain. As one 2016 study by Clinical Nutrition(opens in new tab) found, high protein diets can, in the long term, be associated with weight gain and cardiovascular problems.
- Digestive issues. Eating more protein than your body needs can sometimes lead to a variety of digestive issues in the long term, as protein is naturally harder to digest than fats and carbs, according to a study by ISRN Nutrition(opens in new tab). You may experience cramps, constipation, diarrhea, or bloating.
- Kidney problems. Too much protein can also affect your kidney health. As a 2020 PubMed (opens in new tab)study showed, eating too much protein can lead to a condition known as kidney hyperfiltration. However, plant-based proteins tend to be less damaging.
- Bad breath. According to a 2011 press release from Vital Record(opens in new tab), high protein diets lead to excess amino acid in the body that can give the breath a bad odor. In the long term, it can also lead to dental issues.
- Risk of cancer. A 2014 Forbes(opens in new tab) study of people aged 50-65 found that people who ate high-protein diets were four more times likely to die of cancer. The same study found that even moderate protein diets were associated with a higher risk of cancer-related death.
The recommended amount of protein changes from person to person depending on weight, height, and lifestyle factors. There are numerous online protein calculators(opens in new tab) that will help you get a better sense of how much protein you need.