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You can get it from a shake or a steak, but what exactly is protein and why is it so important? Well, protein is one of the three macronutrients we consume from our food sources—which means that it belongs to an elite club of stuff your body can’t make, but you must consume in order to survive. That said, protein is different from its macronutrient cousins, fats and carbohydrates, in that the body doesn’t have the ability to store it. As such, it’s particularly important that you get your daily intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day.

But what exactly does protein do for your body? “Eating a good number of proteins in one’s diet can help maintain muscle mass, integrity and immunity,” says Dr. Amy Lee, head of nutrition for Nucific. She also tells us that getting enough protein is particularly important as we get older, since the body loses lean mass as we age. There’s no need to book it to the butcher shop, though, because this macronutrient can be found in plants, legumes, dairy products and—you guessed it—grains. What’s more, high-protein grains contain less saturated fat than protein from animal sources, and they’re rich in important nutrients like B vitamins and dietary fiber to boot. With that in mind, here are the high-protein grains you need to incorporate into your diet, stat.

*All nutrition data sourced from the USDA.

RELATED: 25 Healthy Protein Snacks That Actually Taste Good

NICO SCHINCO/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

1. Spelt flour

15g protein per cup, raw flour

One of Dr. Lee’s top picks, spelt flour is a stoneground ancient grain and a “primitive cousin of wheat” that can be used just as you would regular flour. (Think: Cookies, cakes and quick breads.) Best of all, Dr. Lee tells us that this easy swap is “a good source of fiber and contains much more protein per serving compared to wheat flour.” (Psst: Wheat flour has 13g of protein per cup.) Plus, spelt is a whole grain—it contains the endosperm, germ and bran—which means that in terms of overall nutrient content, it beats out other more processed flours every time.

NICOLE FRANZEN/FOOD: WHAT THE HECK SHOULD I COOK?

2. Buckwheat

5.7g protein per cup, cooked

Don’t do a lot of baking? Buck up. No, really: Buckwheat is another high-protein grain that’s easy to work with and downright delicious, too. Dr. Lee recommends buckwheat for vegetarians because, in addition to its high protein content, it also contains all eight of the essential amino acids your body needs to thrive. For a side dish or vegetarian bowl, cook up some kasha—a whole buckwheat groat with a toothsome bite and nutty taste reminiscent of farro—or just get your fix with a hearty bowl of soba noodles, a staple of Japanese cuisine that tastes scrumptious hot or cold.

LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

3. Quinoa

8g protein per cup, cooked

Quinoa has been all the rage for a little while now, and for good reason. This gluten-free grain is high in both protein and soluble fiber—and Dr. Lee tells us that the latter is a dietary staple that’s good for probiotics, which boost overall gut health. Bonus: Quinoa also contains all eight essential amino acids, so quinoa salads are a particularly smart choice for vegetarians and vegans.

NICO SCHINCO/STYLING: EDEN GRINSHPAN

4. Kamut

9.82g protein per cup, cooked

This ancient wheat boasts all the nutritional benefits of the other whole grains on our list—amino acids, vitamins, minerals—and a seriously impressive protein content, too. Plus, the firm texture and nutty flavor makes kamut particularly pleasant to eat, so you won’t have a hard time gulping this one down, either as a hot cereal or a stand-in for white rice.

high protein grains whole wheat pasta
Alexandra Grablewski/Getty Images

5. Whole wheat pasta

7.6g protein per cup, cooked

Whole wheat flour has more protein than refined flour, so it should come as no surprise that whole wheat pasta also boasts a superior nutritional profile in comparison to its more processed counterpart. Bottom line: Pasta has been unfairly maligned—and if you make whole wheat spaghetti with meatballs the next time you’re craving some carb-loaded comfort food, your body will thank you.

LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

6. Couscous

6g protein per cup, cooked

Couscous, a staple of North African cuisine that consists of itty-bitty balls of crushed semolina, has a delicate and airy texture that sets it apart from some of the denser grains on our list. Don’t be fooled, though: This protein-rich grain can fill you up fast, especially when served alongside chunky tuna, sweet tomatoes and spicy pepperoncini.

LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

7. Oatmeal

6g protein per cup, cooked

Good news: If you regularly take comfort in a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, you’re already enjoying the benefits of a high-protein grain. Far better than most (highly-processed) breakfast cereals, this whole grain option is an excellent way to fill up in the a.m. while getting your first solid protein boost of the day. Note: For maximum health benefits, try steel-cut oats—this (slow-cooking) type of oatmeal is the least processed and, as such, has the highest fiber content and the lowest glycemic index.

NICO SCHINCO/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

8. Cornmeal

8g protein per cup, cooked

Whether you call it polenta or grits, you can and should indulge in a serving of cornmeal slurry whenever you’re in the mood for comfort food that is delicious, but not sinfully so. Aside from being an excellent source of protein, cornmeal is also packed with fiber. Plus, it pairs beautifully with copious amounts of parmesan—you know, to increase both the deliciousness and the protein factor in one fell swoop.

LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

9. Wild rice

7g protein per cup, cooked

Weird, but true: Wild rice is not actually rice. Despite its similar appearance, this grain is harvested from four distinct species of grasses that bear no relation to regular rice. That said, wild rice is a complete protein—i.e., a protein that contains all the essential amino acids—and it’s loaded with minerals like zinc and phosphorus, and antioxidants to boot. Bonus: You can make a mean chicken soup or colorful Buddha bowl with this one.

LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

10. Farro

8g protein per cup, cooked

Chewy, nutty and 100 percent satisfying—one serving of this dense little grain delivers an impressive amount of important minerals (think: iron and magnesium) and loads of fiber, too. Although farro isn’t a complete protein, it becomes one pretty quickly when you toss in a couple veggies to make a delicious farro salad.

high protein grains amaranth1
Rocky89/Getty Images

11. Amaranth

9.3g protein per cup, cooked

Amaranth is a pseudo cereal—meaning that it’s considered to be a whole grain because of its nutritional profile, despite the fact that it technically isn’t a grain at all. Don’t get hung up on this botanical distinction, though: All you really need to know is that this one is a complete protein, loaded with all nine essential amino acids, that also contains vital minerals like iron and phosphorus. Oh, and amaranth also serves up a whole lot of manganese, a mineral that plays a critical role in metabolizing protein.

HEALTHFULLY EVER AFTER

12. Wheat berries

7g protein per cup, cooked

Wheat berries take a little patience to prepare, but if you whip up a big batch you can enjoy this versatile grain in salads, breakfast bowls or even as a stand-alone side a la risotto. The reward? A whopping dose of protein, iron and fiber (to name a few) that can be enjoyed in savory and sweet dishes alike.

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