Whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, paleo, pescetarian or any combination of the above, we all need protein to account for between 12 to 20 percent of a healthy, balanced diet.
But to reach 56 grams of protein a day (daily Protein Requirement), what are the best high protein food sources ?
Read on to find out more :
What are High Healthy Protein Foods ?
No matter what your dietary preferences, there are high protein food sources to suit everyone – the challenge is how to incorporate them in a way that is balanced, healthy and sustainable. Protein is essential to ensure healthy cultivation of hormones and enzymes, as well as tissue growth & repair.
Just like carbohydrates and fats, not all protein sources are made equal. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with the good and the bad high protein food sources, making sure to optimize your protein intake for your lifestyle.
=> If your foal is to gain weight (muscle mass), have a look on our foods list to gain weight fast
The Best Protein Animal Foods
The following foods contain extremely rich sources of animal protein. Animal sources of protein contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for the body’s healthy functioning. Because of this, most of these animal-based high protein foods also fall under the category of what’s known as a ‘complete protein’.
1. Turkey – for a leaner protein choice
White meat like turkey and chicken are the leaner options, with the high protein and low calorie composition of the breast meat making these cuts the most desirable. Choosing a high protein food source with a low fat content like turkey breast is a great way to recieve the maximum health benefits from your meal.
- In comparison to chicken breast, turkey has overall less calories, less sodium and more iron. Though turkey breast might be a good option for muscle and cell repair after workouts, overall it depends on how the meat is cooked to ensure optimum benefits.
- Grilling and roasting are considered the healthiest options, whilst frying should be avoided.
2. Chicken – 9 grams of protein per ounce
A popular source of lean protein, chicken (and chicken breast in particular) also provides many valuable nutritional benefits. White meats like chicken and turkey contain a protein called myoglobin, which helps transport oxygen throughout the muscles and cells.
- Opting for the skinless chicken breast is a way to further reduce the fat content of this high protein food, and although fish is famous for it’s healthy fatty acids, chicken is also a much richer source of Omega-3 and 6s than other meat-based protein sources like lean beef, pork or lamb.
- Omega 3 and 6 are thought to be beneficial in preventing the inflammation of cancercous cells in the body, and their source in white meats and seafood is almost always combined with a high source of protein.
3/4. Tuna vs Salmon – Protein, fat and value-per-gram
The award for highest protein food in the seafood department is largely up for debate. Some people will advocate that tuna contains a higher protein content, while salmon-lovers argue the opposite.
With a high content of healthy fat available in both, the question remains – which contains more protein?
- Wild salmon clocks in an impressive 22-25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce serving, with tuna reaching 25 grams with a 3 ounce serving. This means that if it’s just protein we’re after, it would seem that tuna is the winner.
- The RDA of vitamins B6 and B12 contained in wild salmon well surpasses that found in tuna, as well as salmon containing 2018mg of Omega 3’s per 100g, with tuna clocking in a mere 240mg. With these vitamins and fatty acids essential for helping your body release energy from food and muscles recover after exertion, wild salmon is the clear winner here, making it one of the most nutritious high protein foods of all time.
Good to know : If your goal is to gain weight, Salmon is your best friend with 1.8g of fat per ounce.
5. Beef – 50% of daily protein needs
As animal protein goes, there are fewer sources quite so rich in this vital macronutrient as beef. Although many people are now including more plant-based protein in their diets, the popularity and commonplace availability of beef makes it an easy option for many lifestyles.
- While 50% of our daily protein intake can be found in one portion of, the high iron content is another positive benefit of consuming it as a high protein food. It’s worth noting however that the nutritional benefits really depend on the cut and the method used in preparation.
- The varying amounts of fat in a portion of beef will highly contribute to the calorie-content in the meal, and so it’s wise to choose lean cuts of this protein source as much as possible.
6. Pork – 21 grams per serving (on average)
As with many animal-based high protein foods, the exact content of protein per meal will vary depending on the cut of meat and the quality of the source. For example, there is a significant nutritional difference between consuming pork loin and choosing bacon strips.
To put this in perspective:
- One slice of baked bacon contains 44 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein (but who stops at only one slice of bacon??)
- One 3-ounce serving of pork loin in comparison equates to 163 calories, 22 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat.
Those considering high protein diets for weight loss should take this into account, and also be aware that low or high calorie-content should not necessarily dictate the nutritional value of a food – especially a high protein food.
7. Sardines – 28 grams of Protein per serving
It’s not the most trendy of fish, but as high protein foods go sardines are a frontrunner for many people hoping to get maximum nutritional benefit from their meals. Omega-3 rich (almost as much as pink salmon!) and a great source of vitamin B12, sardines are definitely worthy of inclusion on any list of high protein foods.
- Lower bad (LDL) cholesterol
- Contain an abundance of Vitamin D – good for bone health and mood-boosting
- Contain a variety of trace minerals necessary for healthy functioning
- Have been known to decrease insulin resistance in diabetics
8. Haddock – One serving = ½ your daily source of Vitamin B-12
Yet another seafood-based high source of protein, white meaty fish like Haddock is a great high protein food to include in any diet. A low fat content (0.8 grams per serving) and low amount of calories again makes this high protein food one to include for any diet – be it weight loss orientated or not.
Other benefits include:
- A single serving packs in up to half of your daily intake of vitamin B-12, a vital nutrient associated with nerve health, red blood cell formation and correct absorption of nutrients from food.
- 28 grams of dried haddock provide up to 18 grams of protein
- A versatile food which can be cooked, dried, eaten alone or in salads, curries and any multitude of dishes.
High Protein Vegetarian Foods
9. Quinoa – 8 grams of protein per cup
As far as vegetarian (and vegan!) high protein foods go, quinoa is an all-rounder. Not only does it contain ALL of the nine essential amino acids (one of the few plant-based protein sources to do so), but it’s also an amazing source of healthy fat and fiber.
It’s also a great source of energy, making it an amazing way to get the optimum nutritional benefit from your meal, without the meat-based guilt or added saturated fat content.
Check out Quinoa bowl recipes for some mouth-watering high-protein veggie lunch ideas.
10. Eggs – the protein powerhouses
10 grams of protein can easily be put away at breakfast time by including a medium egg on your toast. These nutritional powerhouses are a valuable source of protein, with more than half the protein content being found in the egg white.
The white of an egg also contains:
- B2 (riboflavin) and a lower amount of fat than the yolk, but if we’re focusing on eggs as a high protein food, they really are among the top sources.
- 148 proteins – as an alkaline solution, the white of an egg is an important source of complete proteins.
How do you like yours?
11. Lentils – 9 grams per 1/2 cup
As well as being protein powerhouses, these miniature nutritional goldmines provide you with 8 grams of fiber per half a cup (that’s more than beans and chickpeas)!
When combined with a whole grain such as rice, lentils provide us with the same amount of protein as meat, meaning that you don’t have to over-indulge on the vegetarian option to get as much nutritional value.
Lentils are also polyphenols – the name given to powerful micronutrients responsible for antimicrobial action within the body. Consumption of polyphenols has also been linked to:
- A lower risk of diabetes
- Decreased cardiovascular issues
- Improved digestion.
12. Greek Yogurt – 24% of a serving = PROTEIN
With almost one quarter of the composition of 1 serving, greek yogurt is another great healthy way to get a large amount of protein in a small serving. 19.7 grams of protein in one serving is a huge increase on the mere 8.5 grams you’ll find in an average pot of plain yogurt. There really isn’t much to compare between the two.
With so many people opting for vegetarian high protein sources these days, it’s important to find a versatile source which won’t overload the body with sugar, carbohydrate or other unwanted additives.
Greek Yogurt is amazing paired with fruit, in curries, with granola, or just by itself!
13. Cottage Cheese – High Calcium, High Protein, Highly Beneficial
Curdled milk shouldn’t taste this good. The process of removing the acidity from drained curds creates the sweeter, more inviting taste of cottage cheese, providing
23.6 grams of protein per serving.
As a high protein vegetarian food, cottage cheese is low in carbohydrate, high in nutritious fats, and delicious to include in a variety of dishes and meal ideas.
Cottage cheese also:
- Helps to regulate blood pressure
- Contains 251mg of calcium per serving
- Can be helpful in losing and sustaining weight loss.
14. Whey Protein Powder
Though not technically a ‘food’ source, whey protein powder is an extremely popular food supplement which many vegetarians include in their diet to boost protein intake.
During the process of creating cheese, special enzymes are added to the milk to ensure the separation of liquid whey from curds. The drain-off from this is then processed and made into powder form for easy consumption.
Some more Whey information:
- Whey protein powder can be added to juices, smoothies, soups, meals and recipes of all kinds.
- 70-80% protein is contained in one serving of concentrated Whey.
- It can be bought in podwer form as a supplement, or included in products.
- Whey protein has been known to increase ‘whole body anabolism’ and increase recovery time from muscle-related injury.
High Protein Vegan Foods
When choosing a vegan or plant-based diet, it’s vital to include an abundance of high protein foods in order to ensure continued health and wellness. As most vegan sources of protein do not contain all nine essential amino acids (and are known as ‘incomplete proteins’), it’s important for anyone choosing this diet to ensure their nutrition from other sources.
Many vegans will also opt to take dietary supplements, but it is possible to get the essential nutrients from natural, plant-based food sources (with the exception of B12).
The following foods are rich in protein and allow for maximum taste experience while following a vegan healthy diet!
=> Also have a look on our complete vegan protein foods list
15. Chia – a seed like no other
Breakfast time, salad topping, superfood extract in savoury dishes, cakes and soups alike – the tiny (but mighty) chia seed is a high protein food to be reckoned with. With 2 grams of protein per TEASPOON, this is another level of nutritional value.
Chia seeds are also:
- One of the only plant-based sources of ‘complete’ proteins
- An amazing and versatile source of Omega-3 fatty acids
- Can be used as an egg alternative in vegan cooking.
16. Tofu and Tempe – 8 grams vs 20 grams
While there are mixed opinions about their over-arching health benefits, soy-based products are certainly a popular high protein food for both vegans and vegetarians.
The fermented soybeans which have been hulled, cooked and molded into tempe squares can often contain flax seeds, quinoa, barley, brown rice, or some other form of fibrous whole grain.
(Meaning if you are gluten-free, to be cautious before you purchase tempe).
Tofu is a little less complex, deriving from the pulpous residue of condensed soy milk.
While tofu is protein-packed in itself, tempe is the clear winner of this relationship, with a whopping 20 grams of protein perving serving (100 grams).
17. Nuts – Peanuts and Almonds
Never underestimate the power of the humble nut as a high protein food.
Alongside heart-healthy fats and vitamin E, Almonds in particular are an incredible high protein food which vegans can enjoy in a variety of ways:
- Nut butter
- Nut milk
- As salad toppings
- In curries
While higher in calories than beef per ounce, nuts and nut butters in particular are rich in amino acids and in terms of nutritional value-per-serving provide more positive benefits than negative.
Peanuts, too, provide 8 grams of protein per tablespoon, and are also a tasty addition to a wide variety of dishes.
18. Spirulina – more protein than meat (4 grams per teaspoon)
At 60-65% protein per ounce (the highest percentage per gram of all foods), this high protein food might just be the outright winner.
Factor in an additional natural richness in iron and dose of B vitamins, soon you’ll be adding spirulina to everything for more than just the protein.
- Complete protein (all essential amino acids), value-per-gram AND a
- Beautiful natural green colour to boot – especially for vegan high protein foods, Spirulina can’t be beaten.
19. Asparagus – half a cup for 2.2 grams of protein
‘Eat your greens’ is a phrase widely used and rarely adhered to. In terms of vegan high protein foods, green vegetables are one of the most abundant sources. They contain not just a wealth of protein, but also of:
- Vitamin C and E
- And a multitude of other micronutrients.
They are also powerful antioxidants, preventing many sources of chronic inflammation, reducing stress, and helping to ensure a balanced source of nutrients during pregnancy to support foetal development.
20. Spinach – fresh or cooked, fill your protein cup
High in protein, iron, calcium and Vitamin A, spinach is another green vegetable to include on the high protein food shelf in your cupboard.
The difference in protein between a cup of cooked spinach (5.35 grams of protein), and a fresh cup (less than 1 gram) comes down to density. As cooking the spinach decreases density, generally more is used and as such intake can be increased without too much struggle.
For this reason, many people don’t consider spinach to be as rich a source of protein as other green vegetables, however the other nutritional benefits mean that consuming spinach alongside another high protein food (such as chicken or turkey breast), is an amazing way to take in a huge amount of nutritional benefits all in one go.
21. Pumpkin Seeds – 7 grams of Protein per 28 gram serving
Shell-free pumpkin seeds are generally green in colour, and crunchy in texture. They are a great addition to salads, soups, warming dishes too, and with a quarter of their nutritional benefit going to protein, it’s a great way to add an extra protein punch to your meals.
In addition, they also contain many valuable antioxidants, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, potassium, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and more. This means regular consumption of this high protein food can help to:
- Reduce inflammation
- Stimulate digestion
- Reduce cancer & diabetes risk
- Strengthens immune system
- Improve heart health
One serving or cup of pumpkin seeds (28 grams) provides 7-9 grams of protein, making them a high quality, versatile and delicious high protein vegan food to include in your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Which cheese has most protein?
Parmigiano Reggiano, also known as parmesan, contains the biggest protein count of all cheeses, sitting at 35.1 grams per every 100 grams.
How much protein are there in dairy?
Cheese, in all its forms, has the most protein out of all dairy products in the market, at an average of 22.9 grams per 100 gram serving, with cottage cheese following with 11.1 grams per 100 gram serving.
What is the healthiest butter to eat?
Light butter is the healthiest butter to eat, since it contains half the calories, saturated and unsaturated fats, as well as cholesterol that normal butter does.
Nowadays it’s easy to find an abundance of high protein foods, regardless of your dietary preferences or even geographical location. With this said, there are still higher nutritional benefits to eating locally, freshly-sourced foods as organically grown as possible.
Not only does this reduce the travel and processing time of your food, but it means that because they have been sourced from your area you’ll be directly contributing to the eco-system or industry there.
The nutritional benefits of increasing your protein intake and ensuring it stays at a level suited to your lifestyle and activity needs are endless, and it doesn’t take long to notice the changes when you do.
Consuming high protein foods does not have to be difficult – we really hope this list has helped you – let us know what you think in the comments below!