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Last Updated on December 17, 2023
Protein is considered the “building blocks” of the human body. It’s used to create everything from organs, muscles, skin, and even hormones and fingernails. Children need protein to grow, and adults require plenty of protein in their diets to maintain and repair body tissue.
Protein must be consumed by humans, as it’s made of amino acids that the human body cannot make by itself. The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) suggests that women should consume at least 46 grams of protein daily, and men should eat 56 grams.
We don’t want to get into the carnivores vs. vegans, tofu vs. chicken debates here, so we’ve included a list of some of the best protein sources, no matter what your diet is!
Carnivores have plenty of options for getting in their daily protein, but some livestock options provide a healthier option when it comes to protein vs. unhealthy fats.
Chicken breast (skinless) is one of the best protein-rich foods, as almost all the calories in it come from protein. It’s also incredibly versatile and easy to cook in a wide range of dishes.
2. Lean Beef
While beef isn’t always seen as the healthiest dietary choice, lean beef is excellent for a low-carb diet and is incredibly high in protein. It’s also full of bioavailable iron, vitamin B12, and numerous other essential nutrients.
A pescatarian diet is mostly comprised of vegetarian foods, shunning meat but still consuming dairy products. However, pescatarians can still eat fish and other seafood.
Fish is widely considered an excellent dietary choice, as fish are rich in essential nutrients and those all-important protein amino acids. Many fish are also high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the best fish for increasing your protein intake include tuna and salmon.
Shrimp (and some other shellfish) are also popular choices for a low-calorie-high-protein food. Around 97% of the calories in shrimp come from protein, and they’re also high in essential nutrients, including selenium, Vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Vegetarians don’t eat fish or meat. However, they do still consume dairy products, some of which are incredibly high in protein.
Eggs are arguably the most nutritious food available. Filled with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, antioxidants, and brain nutrients, eggs are simply fantastic.
While the whole egg is incredibly high in protein, anyone looking for a low-fat diet might be interested to know that egg whites are almost entirely protein, making them perfect weight-loss breakfast material… Eggcellent (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
6. Cottage cheese
While many cheeses are high in protein, cottage cheese takes pride of place on this list as it’s also low in fat and high in calcium, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, and multiple extra nutrients.
Other high-protein cheeses to look out for include parmesan, swiss, mozzarella, and cheddar.
Milk contains almost all the nutrients your body needs to survive. We all know that dairy milk is an excellent source of calcium, but it’s also super-high in protein, phosphorus, and vitamin B2, among other nutrients.
If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, plant-based milk (particularly soy milk) can also be high in protein.
Once, it was believed that plant-based protein was inferior to protein derived from livestock. However, our understanding of protein and nutrients has evolved, and we now know that a plant-based diet can provide more than adequate levels of the foods our body needs to perform at peak capacity.
A vegan diet has actually been shown to reduce the risk of many medical issues commonly associated with a meat-based diet. And as veganism grows in popularity, the choices available to vegans continue to expand!
Nuts (specifically almonds, pistachios, and peanuts) are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats.
Grains might be considered a carbohydrate, but they’re actually packed full of healthy proteins, fibers, and other nutrients that the body needs.
Oats are among the healthiest grains you could choose, closely followed by “superfood” quinoa. These are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, plus other health benefits.
Legumes such as lentils are high in fiber, magnesium, potassium, iron, folate, copper, manganese, and uncountable other nutrients, making them an essential addition to any diet. Lentils are also one of the best sources in the world for plant-based protein.
Like nuts, seeds are a fantastic source of easy protein and unsaturated fats, and they’re great for snaking! Pumpkin seeds are among the best seed sources of protein and are also high in other nutrients, including iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are also all fantastic protein sources.
Any diet should already be rich in vegetables… But did you know that numerous veggies are also protein sources? Some of the best veggie protein sources include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, and bok choy.
You didn’t think we’d write a list of the best protein sources and not include tofu, did you? Tofu is widely renowned as being one of the best meat substitutes, thanks to its versatility and ability to take up any taste or texture depending on the dish it’s being prepared for.
Tofu is fantastic as it’s high in protein yet low in fat, making it a popular choice for weight management.
Generally, any soy-based food is high in protein and low in fat, making soy products excellent for vegans and weight-watchers alike!
As you might have noticed, protein is present in a wide range of foods – not just meat and dairy – so you can enjoy a healthy, protein-rich diet no matter what your preferences might be.