18 High Protein Foods That Will Boost Your Health

Chia seeds, black beans and burgers all fit the bill

two people sitting and eating a healthy high protein snack.
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Protein is an important part of a healthy diet for numerous reasons (more on that later) and if you’re concerned you might not be getting enough, you might want to consider changing up the menu to include more high-protein foods. Good news: we spoke to a diet and nutrition expert and got some top protein-packed picks. Read on and start meal planning.

Meet the Expert

  • Alyssa Wilson, RD is a registered and licensed dietitian. She holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition from Georgia State University, and a Bachelors of Science in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Georgia. Alyssa has experience working as a nutrition coach at major gyms as well as leading nutrition programs in corporate wellness, and currently works as a metabolic success coach at Signos.

Why Is Protein Important?

Wilson explains that “protein consists of amino acids and provides the building blocks of life, including the raw materials for our neurotransmitters, muscles, tissues, enzymes, blood and more.” Per the expert, protein also helps keep blood sugar stable, stimulates our metabolism, supports exercise performance, helps detoxify the body and lets our brain know when we are full. So, yeah, it’s pretty important. Now that we have your attention, read on for a list of dietitian-recommended high protein foods, plus some key nutrition facts courtesy of the USDA FoodData Central.

high protein foods: a man cracking an egg.
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1. Eggs

  • Protein Content: 6.3 g per one large egg
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 72 calories, 5 g fat, 0.5 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: scrambled, fried, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled

Everyone has their preferred preparation, but the beauty of ‘em is that you can eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner, since an omelet is always welcome in the AM, hard-boiled eggs make for an excellent snack and we’ve never seen a savory dish that isn’t enhanced by the runny yolk of a poached or sunny-side up egg. Best of all, eggs boast numerous nutritional benefits in addition to their considerable protein content. For starters, they contain all nine essential amino acids, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin—two rare antioxidants that research shows help prevent age-related vision degeneration. They are also rich in healthy fats and contain important nutrients, like iron, phosphorus and more than one B vitamin, to boot.

high protein foods: a bowl of chili topped with shredded cheese.
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2. Ground Beef

  • Protein Content: 22 g protein per 3-ounce (85g) serving of 85% lean meat
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 212 calories, 13.1 g fat, 0 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: hamburgers, meatballs, taco filling and beyond. (You can find some tasty new ideas here.)

The expert says to always opt for lean ground beef, or any other lean cut you prefer, in order to limit your intake of saturated fat and keep your cholesterol in check. That said, lean beef is rich in muscle-building proteins and an excellent source of iron, selenium, zinc and B vitamins, too. Just remember to enjoy this budget-friendly meat in moderation, since a small three ounce serving is all you need to significantly bump up your protein intake.

high protein foods: cooked chicken breast on a plate.
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3. Chicken Breast

  • Protein Content: 26 g protein per 3-ounce serving
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 128 calories, 2.7 g fat, 0 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: stuffed, baked, grilled and tossed into salads and the list goes on

Here, another budget-friendly and highly versatile meat that makes a frequent appearance at the dinner table. Chicken breasts are your best bet if you’re looking to boost your protein intake without increasing your waistline, since they are particularly lean. Alas, that means they dry out when overcooked, so be sure to experiment until you find a preparation that yields a juicy finished product every time.

high protien foods: three pieces of cut salmon.
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4. Salmon

  • Protein Content: 25 g protein per 3.5-ounce (100 g) serving
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 182 calories, 8 g fat, 0 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: roasted, baked or pan-fried—and featured in any of these tasty recipes.

According to WebMD, salmon is known to have some serious benefits for cardiovascular health, which include lowering cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, reducing artery inflammation and preventing heart attacks. And it’s mostly owed to the fact that salmon is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and potassium, too. It’s also downright delicious and a refreshing alternative to red meat and poultry.

high protein foods: cottage cheese in bole topped with cucumber and greens.
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5. Cottage Cheese

  • Protein Content: 12.5 g protein per four ounce serving.
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 111 calories, 5 g fat, 4 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: on its own or mixed with fruit for a snack, spread on toast or mixed into scrambled eggs for fluffier and creamier results.

Cottage cheese has gotten a bad wrap for being snoozy, but it’s an excellent option if you’re looking for a versatile ingredient that’s low in calories, high in protein and an ideal way to get your dairy fix without taking in too much fat at the same time.

high protein foods: a salad topped with firm tofu.
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6. Firm Tofu

  • Protein Content: 21.8 g protein per half cup
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 181 calories, 11 g fat, 3.5 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: drain and press before baking, sauteing or frying for stir-fries salads and more.

Wilson recommends tofu as a high-protein and vegetarian-friendly food and the American Heart Association agrees, noting that tofu has a desirable protein to calorie ratio, contains healthy polyunsaturated fats and has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. In other words, if you’re looking for a plant-based protein source that can really stand in for meat, tofu certainly fits the bill.

high protein foods: a rack of cooked lamb.
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7. Lamb

  • Protein Content: 25 g protein per 3.5 ounce serving
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 258 calories, 16.5 g fat, 0 carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: grilling or other forms of high-heat cooking are best for leaner cuts, while fattier cuts benefit from a low and slow braising method.

Like other kinds of red meat, lamb boasts a boatload of high-quality protein. It’s also an excellent source of other essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12. 

high protein foods: a bowl of chia seeds.
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8. Chia Seeds

  • Protein Content: 4.7 g protein per ounce
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 138 calories, 9 g fat, 12 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: add a sprinkle of raw chia seeds to smoothies, salads or cereal; serve them with moist foods like yogurt or soften them by soaking in a milk of your choice.

Per the Mayo Health Clinic, chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses that “improve heart health, reduce cholesterol levels and promote intestinal health.” They also boast an impressive amount of dietary fiber, which means they take longer to digest and are a great way to ensure that your breakfast pudding or morning smoothie satiates you until lunchtime.

high protein foods: hemp seeds being poured into a bowl.
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9. Hemp Seed

  • Protein Content: 9.5 g protein per three tablespoon serving
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 166 calories, 14.6 g fat, 2.6 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: blended in smoothies, sprinkled on salads or added to baked goods.

In addition to being a great source of protein that helps curb your appetite and promote weight loss, hemp seeds are also loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants that help fight disease. You can read more about their health benefits as a food ingredient here, but we'd be remiss not to mention that hemp seed oil can do wonders for your skin when applied topically, too.

high protein foods: a bowl of yogurt topped with fruit and granola.
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10. Greek Yogurt

  • Protein Content: 20 grams of protein per seven ounce serving.
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 146 calories, 3.8 g fat, 7.8 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: use to add creaminess to curries, soups and smoothies, as a base for dipping sauces and dressings, or by itself with fresh fruit.

Greek yogurt has more protein than other types of yogurt and is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus—three key minerals that support bone health—-as well as iodine, which is known to support thyroid function. Add to that the gut-healthy probiotics and it’s safe to say this dairy product has earned its reputation as a superfood. That said, you are better off sticking with plain Greek yogurt, as the flavored varieties tend to contain a lot of added sugars that offset the natural health benefits.

high protein foods: a jar of almonds.
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11. Almonds

  • Protein Content: 6 g of protein per ounce
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 165 calories, 14 g fat, 6 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: eat as is for snacking, blend to make a breading for meats, or add to baked goods, salads and pasta dishes for a crunchy texture and nutty taste.

Almonds have a sweet and mild taste that’s versatile enough to harmonize with sweet and savory dishes alike. Research also confirms that these highly snackable nuts are rich in health-promoting antioxidants—specifically when you eat them whole with the brown skin on. It’s fine to opt for the roasted and salted variety when your intention is to snack, but when cooking with almonds (i.e., when other salted ingredients are present), it’s best to go for the unsalted variety so you don’t end up consuming more sodium than you need.

high protein foods: a woman pouring a glass of milk.
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12. Milk

  • Protein Content: 8 g protein per cup
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 149 calories, 8 g fat, 12 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: added to oatmeal and coffee, used as a substitute for heavy cream in recipes, or enjoyed on its own (preferably with cookies).

It’s widely known that milk is an excellent source of calcium that supports bone health and helps prevent conditions like osteoporosis, but the medical experts at WebMD report that cow’s milk is also rich in phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and—when you purchase a fortified variety—vitamin D, too. It’s worth noting, though, that the nutritional information listed above refers to whole milk and that skim milk delivers an equal amount of protein, but with less fat and fewer nutrients.

high protein foods: a scoop of whey protein.
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13. Whey Protein Powder

  • Protein Content: 13 to 25 g protein per scoop
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 113 calories, .5 g fat, 2 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: add a scoop to oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt bowls, or even soups and stews.

Perhaps the easiest way to add protein to your diet is simply by scooping some protein powder into any dish that takes well to the stuff (see above). According to the Cleveland Clinic, this popular supplement boasts all eight of the types of protein found in cow’s milk and is also considered to be a “complete protein” as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Combine that with the fact that its fat content is considerably less as compared with whole milk, and it’s pretty clear why fitness lovers favor whey powder as part of a workout-friendly and muscle-building diet.

high protein foods: peanut butter on wheat toast drizzled with honey.
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14. Peanut Butter

  • Protein Content: 8 g protein per two tablespoons
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 188 calories, 16 g fat, 6 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: on apple slices, in sandwiches or by the spoonful

Nut butters are a good source of protein across the board, but peanut butter is the best of them. It also contains omega-6 fatty acids, which lower bad cholesterol and raise the good kind, as well as an amino acid called arginine that is believed to protect against cardiovascular disease. That said, the high fat content in peanut butter means you should eat it in moderation.

high protein foods: cooked black beans is a wood bowl.
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15. Black Beans

  • Protein Content: 15.2 g protein per cup
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 240 calories, 0 g fat, 42 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: soak overnight and boil for 45-60 minutes, then season to your liking and serve as a side dish, burrito filling and beyond.

Black beans pack a serious nutritional punch—providing a hefty amount of plant-based protein, plus dietary fiber and numerous antioxidants that can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of everything from heart disease to cancer. They’re also delicious, versatile and decidedly budget-friendly.

high protein foods: a bowl of quinoa topped with mixed wegetables.
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16. Quinoa

  • Protein Content: 8.1 g protein per cup
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 222 calories, 4 g fat, 39 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: season with spices like cumin and fresh herbs for a standalone side dish, or toss into salads for texture and added protein.

Quinoa is a hearty grain with a pleasant earthy taste and an impressive nutritional profile. In addition to being a good source of protein, quinoa also provides a considerable amount of dietary fiber and is rich in folate, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and iron.

high protein foods: a slab of pork being cut.
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17. Pork

  • Protein Content: 19 g protein per 4-ounce serving of pork loin
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 206 calories, 12 g fat, 0 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: low and slow for roasts, or a quick pan-fry for chops

Tenderloin, chops, pork shoulder roasts that melt in your mouth, Italian sausage…pork comes in many forms and all of them are delicious and packed with protein. That said, some kinds are healthier than others and the expert recommends going for leaner cuts like loin if you plan on eating it regularly.

high protein foods: a bowl of lentil soup.
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18. Lentils

  • Protein Content: 18 g protein per cup
  • Nutritional Information per Serving: 230 calories, <1 g fat, 40 g carbs
  • Ways to Prepare: simmer until tender for soups and salads or to serve as a standalone side dish.

Fiber, folate, potassium, iron—lentils have a lot of the good stuff. In fact, medical sources say that eating them can lower cholesterol, protect your heart and even prevent diseases like diabetes and colon cancer. Depending on what you’re using them for, every type of lentil is tasty, but we prefer the French (i.e., Le Puy) variety for salads and side dishes as they hold their shape better and have a pleasing al dente texture.

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