Protein is a essential building block for your body. Protein foods include animal sources like meat, fish and poultry; plant-based options like beans, nuts, and soy products; and dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt.
Make sure to eat a variety of these food choices to get enough protein in your diet.
Eggs are a protein powerhouse that provide all nine “essential” amino acids (the ones your body can’t make on its own), as well as vitamin D, choline and other nutrients. They’re also affordable and a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, though they’re higher in saturated fat than other proteins, so you may want to limit the yolks in your diet if you have heart disease or are at a heightened risk for it.
A single whole egg provides 78 calories, 6 grams of protein and a variety of nutrients including choline, lutein and zeaxanthin, folate, iron and vitamins D and B5. Eggs have one of the lowest energy-to-nutrient density ratios of any food, making them an ideal addition to weight loss or maintenance diets.
2. Lean Meat
Choosing lean meats like skinless chicken, turkey or beef is an important way to make sure you’re getting protein and cutting down on saturated fat. It’s also a good idea to avoid processed meats, such as bacon, ham and sausage, which are higher in saturated fat and added sodium.
The old ad campaign that called pork “the other white meat” was on to something. Pork loin has almost as much protein as chicken and is a good source of vitamin B6, zinc, potassium and selenium. Look for cuts labeled “lean” or “extra lean,” which contain less than 10 g of total fat, 4.5 g of saturated fat and 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 g (about 3 1/2 oz). Also choose low-fat ground turkey and poultry.
Although nuts get a bad reputation for their fat content, research has shown that eating nuts does not lead to weight gain. The fat in nuts (as well as seeds and legumes) is primarily unsaturated, making it healthy.
Nuts also contain the amino acid arginine, which helps to make nitric oxide, a molecule that helps relax constricted blood vessels and improves blood flow. They are also a source of vitamin E, potassium, folate and fiber.
Try adding a handful of nuts or seeds to your morning cereal, snacking on them raw or mixing them into salads. Be sure to avoid salty, fried or flavoured nuts and instead opt for plain varieties. You can also roast or dry fry them yourself for extra flavour. Just be careful to not overdo it on the nuts, as they are high in calories.
Lentils are tiny, but they pack a big nutritional punch. They’re a good source of protein, fiber and heart-healthy nutrients like folate, iron and potassium. They’re also relatively low in fat and sodium, and a great addition to a plant-based diet. Add lentils to salads, soups and whole grain side dishes like quinoa or brown rice pilaf. You can also use them in stews and dals, and stuffings.
One of the oldest health foods, growers first domesticated lentils in the Middle East around 8,000 B.C. Today, they’re a staple in many households because they’re cheap and easy to prepare, and offer a variety of benefits, including high levels of plant-based protein that help build muscle and support immune function. There are multiple varieties of lentils, including brown, green, black and red.
Dairy foods are nutrient-rich and provide high levels of calcium and protein, essential for bone health. (1)
Choose low-fat or fat free milk, yogurt and cheese for a convenient way to add protein to your diet. Try using lactose-free milk, which is real cow’s milk with the lactose sugar broken down, to reduce digestive discomfort. (2)
Use milk to make creamy pasta sauce, baked potatoes and lasagne or sprinkle grated, low-fat natural hard cheese on veggies to add protein and calcium. Make sure you get enough dairy by checking the serving sizes on food labels and reading ingredient lists. The amount of dairy needed varies based on age, sex and activity level. (3). For additional calcium choices, consider products like almond, oat, or coconut “milks” that contain added calcium.
Legumes, pulses and beans (including chickpeas) are all a great source of protein. They’re also low in fat, provide fiber and a variety of nutrients including potassium, folate, iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
One cup of cooked beans provides 20 grams of protein and plenty of fiber. Beans also contain the amino acid lysine, which is important for people eating plant-based diets as these diets may not supply enough of this amino acid to support optimal health.
Try adding beans to salads, soups and other dishes. Or make a breakfast burrito by combining a half-cup of any type of bean with avocado, tomatoes and eggs for a filling meal that will also help you meet your daily protein needs. Alternatively, mix beans into your smoothies.
Tofu is a protein powerhouse that has long been a staple for vegetarians and vegans. But more and more meat-eaters are catching on to what those who love it have known for years: Tofu is a versatile high-protein food that can be enjoyed by anyone.
The soybean-based food is made by cooking and straining soy milk, then adding an acid or salt to separate the curds from the water and pressing them into blocks. Depending on the process, it can come in various textures, including soft, silken (which has the most water content), and extra-firm.
You can mash it with turmeric and seasoning to make eggless scrambles, use it in recipes calling for sour cream or mayonnaise, and even blend it into smoothies and pudding. Its mild flavor makes it a great partner for almost any sauce, marinade or dressing.