Protein is a critical part of any balanced diet, and whether you’re a vegetarian or an omnivore, we should all pay close attention to the protein content in our foods. Meat and fish are great sources of protein, but it turns out there are a plethora of protein-rich foods for all diets, and some of them may just surprise you. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet should include “A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products.”[i]
Here’s are 9 delicious options to consider:
Any type of fish is rich in protein, and some species provide those healthy oils and omega-3s. Some of the higher protein content can be found in Tuna, Salmon, Halibut, and Cod. Not only are they good for you, but there are also a ton of great recipes from fish cakes, to grilled, to baked. Codfish cakes are popular and easy to make- the addition of bread crumbs, onions, and spices jazz-up this simple, flaky white fish.
Protein in 1 cup, cooked: Tuna: up to 40g Salmon: 28g Halibut: 30g Cod: 25g
You gotta love quinoa- for such a tiny grain, it packs a real protein punch. It tastes great by itself, as a side, or mixed into any number of recipes. A native of South America, quinoa has made its way into diets all over the world. And protein is just the beginning, there are a ton of minerals, fiber, and other nutrients in this little seed, like magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.
Protein in 1 cup, cooked: 7 g
Whether it’s chicken or turkey, white meat offers a lot of protein in a relatively small portion. It makes a great staple any time of year (not just holidays), with delicious dishes ranging from barbecue to gyros to pot pie. While the jury is still out regarding which is healthier, red or white meat, chicken and turkey do offer a great protein option if you want to steer away from beef and pork. By the way, you can add a little potassium and phosphorous to the benefits of poultry.
Protein in 1 cup, diced & cooked: Chicken: 36g Turkey: 37g
Another staple in the vegetarian household, Greek yogurt is surpassing the other, lighter varieties due to its high protein content and rich, creamy texture. And it makes a great dessert as you round out your protein menu. You can eat it plain or mix it into smoothies and any fruit parfait combo you can imagine. It’s naturally high in calcium, but always read the brand label for any added sugars or cholesterol.
Protein content in 1 cup of whole milk, plain: 22g (compare to 14g in non-fat plain yogurt)
Lentils are a tiny legume that delivers a lot of protein per serving, with several types available like red, green, brown, and black. Red lentils are especially great with curry seasoning and soften up nicely into a paste-like spread. Yum! Your supermarket should have each type, in either dry or canned varieties, plus you’ll even find delicious lentil pasta- which offers an easy way to sneak this protein option into the family diet. By the way, lentils also offer helpings of potassium and iron.
Protein in 1 cup, cooked: 15g
These delicious snacks are also a great source of protein. While some tree nut varieties contain more saturated fat than others, here are some great options: almonds, walnuts, pecans, and brazil nuts. In addition to protein, tree nuts also deliver magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous. The best thing about tree nuts, however, is they’re so easy to add to oatmeal, a salad, or just toss into your lunch. Look for roasted, unsalted options for a healthier menu.
Protein in 1/2 cup: Almonds: 14g Walnuts: 9g Pecans: 4.5g Brazil Nuts: 9.5g
Cottage Cheese (Low fat)
Cottage cheese is another creamy, delicious source of protein and calcium. People are routinely using cottage cheese in lasagna as a lower fat alternative to ricotta. Add a classic fruit like peaches for extra flavor, and it passes for a dessert. Good news- the kids will like it, too!
Protein in 1 cup: 23g
Beans have been dietary staples for centuries and it’s no wonder why. They store well when dry, and bring natural helpings of fiber and protein into countless soups, stews, salads, and main courses. In addition to protein and fiber, beans offer nutrients like calcium, copper, magnesium, choline, and an especially helpful amount of potassium.
Protein in 1 cup, cooked: Navy: 16g Kidney: 14g Black: 14g
Yes, eat your peas. And there’s a good reason- just like beans, these little veggies deliver a healthy amount of protein, potassium, and fiber into your diet. Again, mix them into your pasta dishes and your kids won’t notice (much).
Protein in 1 cup, cooked: 15g
How protein much do we need?
Given all of the sources of protein available, the next logical question is: how much do I need per day? For females and males, aged 31-50, the USDA recommends 46 and 56 grams of protein per day respectively.[i] And as you saw in the protein sources above, there are plenty of healthy and delicious ways to meet that recommendation. Now, as you browse the food aisles in your local grocery, you’ll have an eye for both plant and animal protein sources to suit all tastes.
Nutrient (Protein) Data Source: “What’s in the Food
You Eat” published by the USDA. For more information visit: https://reedir.arsnet.usda.gov/nutrientsearch
[i] Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Edition, USDA, page 97.
[i] Boiling down the dietary guidelines, Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic, website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dietary-guidelines/art-20045584, accessed 03-11-2020.