Did you know that your organs, tissues, muscles and hormones are all made from proteins? It’s true, and high-protein foods, which supply nutrients that are used by every part of the body to develop, grow and function properly.
Because proteins are involved in just about every body function, it’s important that you consume foods high in protein every day, ideally with every meal.
Studies show that eating a high-protein diet has a number of health benefits. It can help you maintain and lose weight, increase satiety, stabilize your blood sugar levels, improve your ability to learn and concentrate, reduce brain fog, and support your muscles and bones.
Learn about the best protein foods and more.
What Is Protein?
One of three macronutrients (the others are carbohydrates and fat), proteins provide four calories per gram, the same amount as carbohydrates but less than fats. Protein foods are made of amino acids, commonly called “the building blocks of the body.”
Because of its ties to lean muscle mass and satiety in terms of controlling your appetite, protein is especially important as you age. Protein deficiency can contribute to weakness, mood changes and more. A lack of protein in your diet can cause side effects/symptoms, including muscle weakness or muscle wasting, loss of concentration, weight gain or weight loss (depending on if body fat is increased), anxiety, joint discomfort, and trouble sleeping.
Protein is constantly broken down and used for energy, so you need to replenish your body’s supply on a daily basis by consuming foods that supply protein. (Both plant and meat sources can do this.)
A high-protein food is one high in the macronutrient protein and usually much lower in the other two macronutrients. As a result, protein makes up the bulk of the calories for these foods, and many of the top high-protein foods in terms of grams per weight are meat.
That being said, you’ll be surprised to see how many foods you can eat on a high-protein diet. Even people on a vegetarian or vegan diet, who sometimes turn to processed foods for energy, can have enough plant-based protein foods to choose from.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
You can eat high-protein foods as part of a balanced diet and within a reasonable daily calorie intake, or you may opt to follow a high-protein diet that is heavily populated by high-protein foods. Either way, it can help to track the how much protein you need a day as well as count your macros to make sure you getting enough.
For General Requirements
In general, if you just want to support overall health and longevity, consuming about 50 percent of your body weight in grams of protein per day is ideal. In this case, if you weigh 160 pounds, then getting about 80 grams daily from healthy protein sources is recommended.
Therefore, if you’re eating three meals a day, you want to aim for about 25 grams from high-protein foods in each meal.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the recommended daily minimum intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women. However, these are considered minimum amounts.
To Build Muscle
If you’re trying to build muscle, take your weight and multiply it by one to determine how many grams you need from high-protein foods daily. So if you weigh 160 pounds and want to pack on some muscle, then you should be trying to get 160 grams of protein daily. Over four meals, that’d be 40 grams of protein intake for each.
1. Boosts Muscle Mass
Increasing your protein intake will boost muscle mass, while also supporting your tendon, ligaments and other body tissues. Whether you are focused on bodybuilding or developing a learner, toned appearance, adequate protein intake is critical. Research also suggests that eating good-quality meat also supports muscle recovery and promotes muscle synthesis.
2. Helps with Weight Loss
Research shows that proper protein intake increases satiety and promotes the retention of lean muscle mass, while improving metabolic profile. High-protein dietary choices can help you avoid excessive snacking between meals and contribute to weight loss.
3. Boosts Mood
The amino acids in protein foods help with neurotransmitter function, support hormone balance and help to control mood, which has been shown in studies. This explains why it’s possible for people who lack key amino acids to experience mood-related issues like anxiety, depression and irritability.
4. Maintains Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Insulin production depends on adequate protein intake, and unlike high-carbohydrate or high-sugar foods, protein does not result in fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Research suggests that dietary protein can also slow down the absorption of sugar during meals.
5. Supports Bone Health
Studies indicate the positive association between eating more foods with protein and better bone health. Adequate protein intake helps treat broken bones and improve bone weakness.
6. Supports Cardiovascular Health
Research shows that protein intake is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, and a diet high in protein may help reduce high blood pressure.
7. Promotes Healthy Brain Function
Amino acids are needed to make hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes that are critical for cognitive function. Studies indicate that the brain needs a steady supply of amino acids to maintain healthy energy levels, focus and concentration.
Best High-Protein Foods
Let’s take a look at some of the best high-protein foods for overall health, including protein sources for vegans and vegetarians. Protein amounts are given for a typical regular serving of each food, starting with the foods highest in protein and descending in order.
1. Organic Chicken Breast
- 4 ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breast contains 25 grams of protein
One chicken breast supplies over 30 percent of your recommended daily value for protein, making it an excellent high-protein food option that can easily be added to healthy lunch and dinner recipes.
Chicken is also a source of B vitamins, like niacin and vitamin B6, which are important for lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, treating diabetes, supporting metal health and lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
Choose organic, free-range chicken breast to ensure that the chicken was fed organic food grown with no pesticides, received no antibiotics and was given access to the outdoors.
2. Liver (Beef)
- 3 ounces of cooked beef liver contains 25 grams of protein
Why is eating liver good for you? In many cultures, beef liver, chicken liver and duck liver are considered superfoods due to their very high content of essential nutrients, especially vitamin A, iron and B vitamins (particularly B12).
Some experts even say that ounce for ounce, liver is probably more nutritious than any other high-protein foods.
Adding liver and other organ meats to your diet, even in small amounts, is a good way to help prevent anemia, support cognitive health, aid in fertility and detoxification, and more.
- 4 ounces of ground lamb contains 23 grams of protein
Lamb is one of the best sources of essential nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12, not to mention that it’s high in protein.
Similar to grass-fed beef, it does contain a decent amount of fat, including saturated fat. However, it also supplies high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is linked with benefits including improve satiety and help with weight management.
4. Grass-Fed Beef
- 4 ounces of 90 percent lean ground beef contains 22 grams of protein
Grass-fed beef is one of the best high-protein foods that you can find. Not only does it supply almost 50 percent of your recommended daily value of protein, but it’s also a rich source of vitamins A and E and powerful antioxidants.
Grass-fed beef nutrition has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve blood sugar levels due to its protein and healthy fat content.
- 3.75 ounces (1 can) of sardines, with oil drained, contains 22 grams of protein
Sardines are a sustainable and inexpensive fish source of omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium and protein.
They are one of the best natural sources of essential omega-3 in the world, which are linked with benefits such as anti-inflammatory effects, heart health and cognitive health. It’s why they are considered one of the best fish to eat on a regular basis.
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of tempeh contains 20 grams of protein
In addition to providing protein, it has probiotics, antioxidants, isoflavones, manganese, copper, phosphorus and magnesium that can help keep cholesterol down, boost bone health and stabilize blood sugar.
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of natto contains 19 grams of protein
Natto is a fermented food that’s made by soaking whole soybeans, steaming them and adding healthy bacteria into the mixture. It offers an array of health benefits due to its protein, manganese, iron, copper, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin C (just to name a few) content.
8. Wild-Caught Salmon
- 3 ounces of wild Atlantic salmon contains 17 grams of protein
Fish are great protein sources, and wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest high-protein foods around because it’s also high in omega-3 and a slew a vitamins and minerals — including vitamin B12 (with well over 100 percent of your daily value from a three-ounce piece); vitamin D; selenium; vitamins B3, B6 and B5; and potassium.
Its healthy fats make it a perfect protein for the keto diet meal plan. Meanwhile, the benefits of salmon nutrition promote the health of your entire body, including your brain, bones, heart, eyes, skin and cells.
- 2 large grade A eggs (101 grams) contains 12 grams of protein
Did you know that eggs are one of the best high-protein, low-carb foods since they have a complete amino acid profile, plus healthy fats? That means eggs contain all nine of the essential amino acids that we need to get from our food.
Add eggs to your diet to boost your heart health, aid in weight loss, prevent metabolic syndrome and boost skin health.
Eggs also are rich in biotin, which helps improve protein absorption. Vitamin B6 also plays an important role in protein absorption as it helps enzymes break down the protein and carries the disassembled amino acids to the blood.
Keep in mind, to get the full health benefits of eggs, stick to organic, free-range eggs, which guarantee the hens are allowed to roam, wander, perch and have a good quality of life. Plus, free-range eggs, when compared to eggs from caged hens, contain more vitamins and omega-3 fat and less cholesterol.
10. Cottage Cheese
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of full-fat cottage cheese contains 12 grams of protein
Much like greek yogurt, cottage cheese packs an impressive amount of protein even when eaten in small servings. This high-protein, low-calorie food is also loved by athletes and low-carb dieters because it provides important nutrients like calcium.
Because it’s high in phosphorus, when combined with calcium it can help build strong bones. It also supplies you with B12, B6 and folate, all of which support proper function and development of the brain, nerves, blood cells and more.
- 1 cup (243 grams) of low-fat kefir contains 9 grams of protein
Also called “drinkable yogurt,” kefir is a cultured dairy product that offers probiotics, calcium, potassium and more. It’s generally even higher in probiotics than yogurt but also has a more tart taste.
Research suggests that yogurt and kefir are great high-protein foods for weight loss due to their filling quality, calcium and other nutrients. Just like with yogurt, opt for organic, plain (no sugar added), full-fat kefir for the most benefits.
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of whole Greek yogurt contains 9 grams of protein
Yogurt is a great source of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals, and it’s full of beneficial probiotics that help improve the microflora in your gut, thereby supporting your digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
Adding this high-protein, probiotic food to your diet can boost your immune system, support weight loss and regulate your mood.
This is why probiotic yogurt is considered a superfood. While Greek yogurt is a common go-to, you can also try yogurt made from goat or sheep milk.
Keep in mind that yogurt is more than a healthy breakfast food — it can also be used in place of mayo or sour cream in all sorts of recipes.
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of sprouted, cooked lentils contains 9 grams of protein
Eating lentils is a great plant-based protein food for vegans and vegetarians to get enough protein in their diets. A cup of lentils checks a lot of boxes off the nutrient list, including protein, dietary fiber, folate, manganese, iron, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins, just to name a few.
The protein and other nutrients in lentils help boost cardiovascular health, aid digestion, regulate blood sugar levels, and alkalize the body and balance its pH level.
14. Goat Cheese (and Other Raw Cheeses)
- 1 ounce (28 grams) of hard goat cheese contains 8.6 grams of protein
Cheeses like goat cheese and feta cheese provide a good deal of protein per serving, and they help promote nutrient absorption and supply medium-chain fatty acids that boost energy levels and help lower cholesterol.
15. Nutritional Yeast
- 3 tablespoons (16 grams) of nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein
Loved among plant-based eaters for its cheese-like taste (despite being totally dairy-free), nutritional yeast is very high in B vitamins, zinc, fiber and also offers a decent amount of vegan protein.
Nutritional yeast is an ingredient that is grown on mixtures of cane and beet molasses and then goes through a fermentation process. It’s available as yellow flakes, granules or in powder form and is typically sprinkled over dishes or used to enhance the taste and texture of soups and sauces.
16. Black Beans
- ½ cup (86 grams) of cooked black beans contains 7.6 grams of protein
Black beans are another high-protein food that can be consumed by people following a vegetarian or vegan diet. They are an excellent source of both protein and fiber, which can help make you feel full and satisfied after eating, while also controlling your blood sugar levels so you don’t experience blood sugar highs and lows.
The protein and fiber duo found in black beans also helps the body absorb nutrients and release acids into the bloodstream, which makes you feel energized and helps cleanse your digestive tract.
17. White Beans (Navy Beans)
- ½ cup (91 grams) of cooked navy beans contains 7.5 grams of protein
Assuming you can digest them well, beans are some of the healthiest high-protein, low-fat foods available. White beans are low on the glycemic index and also full of folate, thiamine, potassium, magnesium and iron.
They even make a good substitute for potatoes and tofu in recipes.
18. Almonds (and Other Nuts)
- ¼ cup of raw whole almonds contains 7.7 grams of protein
Nuts and seeds are excellent vegan sources of protein, especially almonds.
Almonds contain protein, antioxidants, unsaturated fat and fiber. Almonds nutrition, including vitamins like riboflavin and minerals like magnesium, helps protect your heart from cardiovascular disease, reduce inflammation, support cognitive function, improve the health of your skin and control blood sugar levels.
If you don’t want to reach for a handful of almonds or other nuts, nut spreads can be another high-protein food option, such as almond butter, peanut butter or cashew butter.
19. Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
- 2 slices (60 grams) of Ezekiel break contains 6 grams of protein
Soaking and sprouting whole grains, such as wheat berries, barley, etc., allows more of their protein to be easily digested. Sprouted breads, such as Ezekiel bread, may also be easier to digest than processed breads — plus they provide more absorbable minerals due to having decreased antinutrient content.