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Protein is one of three macronutrients the body requires. It is vital for building muscle mass and facilitating many chemical reactions in the body. The two other macronutrients, fats and carbohydrates, are equally important, and together all three keep the body functioning the way it was intended.

Proteins are composed of amino acids. While the human body can produce some amino acids, others must come from food. The nine amino acids we cannot produce naturally are known as essential amino acids. They are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. All of these are available from both plant and animal sources, meaning vegetarians and vegans can eat a diet containing all of them — they just might need to eat a wider variety of foods to get them. The average person requires about 25% of their daily calories to come from protein.

Black Beans

Black beans are a fiber- and protein-rich source of carbohydrates. 100 grams of beans provides 21.6 grams of protein, which means this versatile staple is a great part of any healthy diet. Beans are easy to toss into salads, mix into pasta, or cook up as a side dish on their own.

In general, legumes are packed with iron. Black beans themselves are also a good source of magnesium, thiamin, potassium, and folate. Folate and iron work together to support the production of red blood cells and improve blood flow, while folate plays an integral role in preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Folate can also help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.

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Eggs

Eggs are one of the best animal byproducts for protein, nutrients, and healthful fats. Thirty-five percent of the calories in a whole egg come from protein: about 6 grams. Studies show eggs can help a person feel satisfied and full for longer, preventing cravings and overeating. Eggs are versatile, can be eaten any time of the day, are low in calories, affordable, and easy to store.

One myth surrounding eggs is that they are bad for cholesterol levels. Fortunately, this claim is largely untrue. While egg yolks are high in dietary cholesterol, more and more research is confirming that their effect on blood cholesterol levels is minimal when compared to the effects of saturated and trans fats. If you are still feeling uneasy, egg whites are full of protein and cholesterol-free.

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Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a soft, unaged cheese made from the curds of pasteurized cow's milk. This is one dairy product with an abundance of casein protein, and it is loaded with calcium, iron, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, to boot. That means that in addition to all the benefits of protein, you're getting a boost in bone and heart health, as well as enabling the body is able to keep making its own proteins, a process for which phosphorus is vital.

Protein accounts for 70% or more of the calories in non-fat cottage cheese. Casein digests more slowly than whey protein, feeding the muscles all day or night. In fact, studies have shown that cottage cheese mimics the same long-lasting fullness as eggs.

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Oats

Oats have more protein than any other common grain — 17 grams per 100 gram serving. Although oats do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids, as is the case with most plant sources, they are still considered a high-quality option, and those other nutrients can be incorporated with other foods.

Raw oats are easy to prepare, which means processed options are unnecessary, and you can make them as healthful as you want by controlling how much sugar you add. Pretty much any flavor, sweet or savory, matches well with this staple, and online recipes abound. Furthermore, oats are whole grains, which makes them high in fiber, an essential nutrient that can help lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, and control blood glucose.

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Turkey Breast

Turkey breast has practically the same amount of protein (29 grams per 100 gram serving) as chicken breast but offsets this similarity with fewer calories and dietary cholesterol. Comparing the two, the nutritional values are similar enough that it really comes down to flavor preference. Turkey has a firmer texture and a more distinct taste than chicken. Like all meats, turkey breast is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids including tryptophan, which helps regulate sleep.

Also like chicken, turkey breast is a good protein pick because it's so versatile. Cooking a whole turkey can be time-consuming and result in an enormous amount of meat, but it can be sliced, shredded, and frozen, used in chef's salads, sandwiches, and spreads.

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Quinoa

Quinoa has risen to become one of the most popular exotic grains of our time. Native to the Andes mountains in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, people in these regions have consumed the food for thousands of years. Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain. While most plant products contain only some of the essential amino acids, quinoa is one of the only complete vegetarian proteins. One hundred grams of cooked quinoa provides 4.4 grams of protein.

Perhaps the best thing about quinoa is that it's easy to sub in for rice or pasta in just about any dish. It has a consistency similar to cous cous but packs way more of a nutritional punch than this tiny pasta. It keeps well in the fridge, so it's ideal for make-ahead meals to tossing into any salad to up its benefits at the last minute.

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Guava

Fruits are not often considered protein sources, but guava is the most protein-rich of this food option. It also offers the antioxidants vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, carotenoids in guava, of which lycopene is also one, can protect the eyes against light-induced damage, cataract development, and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

There are about 2.6 grams of protein in 100 grams of guava, which still places it below other sources, but certainly makes it worth including if it's available in your area. Coming in at a close second for protein-rich fruits is avocado, which boasts about 2 grams per 100 gram serving, and then apricots, with around 1.4.

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Fish

Fish, in general, is high in protein, with some varieties providing as much per ounce as chicken and lean beef. Wild-caught fish is generally higher in protein than farmed fish, and halibut wins out over the rest. Although containing a moderate amount of mercury, this white fish is an excellent addition to the diet, with more than 30 grams of protein in half a fillet.

Salmon is another great source, one of the healthiest fatty fish. Trout is also a good option, boasting all the essential minerals and plenty of protein. Cod, farmed tuna, and haddock make the best-of list, as well. Though more and more sources are citing the sustainability issues of fishing and buying fish, if you can find eco-friendly sources of this popular meat, it's well worth it from a nutritional standpoint.

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Pistachios

No protein list would be complete without mentioning nuts. Though some people avoid them because they're high in calories and fat, it's important to remember that fat is another of the macronutrients our bodies need, and most nuts contain the healthy kind of fat.

Pistachios are a great protein-filled snack, with 20 grams of protein per 100-gram serving. In addition to this hefty offering, they have lots of fiber, vitamin B6, iron, phosphorus, and vitamin E. The only drawback of pistachios is their sodium content, as most packaged options are salted. Look for low-sodium or sodium-free options, or opt for another high-protein nut such as walnuts (about 16 grams per serving) or almonds, which actually match pistachios at about 20 grams.

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Greek Yogurt

Non-fat Greek yogurt offers more than 60 percent of its calories as protein, with 17 grams in a single, six-ounce serving. This impressive content compared to traditional yogurts is likely to thank for the variety's rapid rise in demand in recent years, though its thick creamy goodness probably played a part as well.

The protein found in Greek yogurt, casein, is the same as cottage cheese, making it an attractive choice for bodybuilders and anyone else looking to pack on or just build up muscle. In addition to protein, Greek yogurt has loads of bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which is great for gut health and motility. Look for unsweetened versions and add your own tasty toppings to ensure this treat does all the healthful good without ruining your teeth!

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Hemp

For people who prefer a vegetarian diet, hemp seeds offer high amounts of plant-based protein. Approximately 25 percent of the calories in these seeds come from protein. Hemp provides essential amino acids, which many plant-based protein sources lack. Hemp protein powder is another popular and complete protein source.

various seeds in bowls fcafotodigital / Getty Images
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Chia and Flaxseeds

Both chia and flax seeds contain a fair amount of protein, along with essential omega-3 fatty acids. These seeds are a concentrated source of nutrients that help maintain health and wellbeing. Chia seeds are bland tasting, while flaxseeds have a robust, nutty flavor. Of the two, research shows flaxseeds have a slightly higher protein profile at 8 grams per ounce, while chia seeds have 4.7.

whole and ground flaxseeds eliane / Getty Images
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Almonds

Almonds make an incredibly healthy snack that is high in fiber, calcium, vitamin E, and niacin. That's not all these nuts have though; they also pack an impressive 6 grams of protein for every 1-ounce serving, around 23 almonds. Even though almonds are fatty, two-thirds are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Of the many varieties, research shows non-pareil almonds contain the most protein.

almonds on wooden background 4kodiak / Getty Images
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Lentils

Lentils are a type of legume noted for its protein-rich seeds. They are 25 percent protein, making them an excellent alternative to meat like beef and lamb. Studies show lentil-based flours and dry concentrates have high nutritional value and make for an easy source of this essential nutrient. Lentil and potato soup is a popular recipe that packs extra protein from the potatoes. Although they're not a significant source, potatoes still have approximately 2 grams of protein per 100 grams, and a medium potato has about 4.3 grams of protein.

lentil soup tovfla / Getty Images
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Tempeh

This traditional Indonesian soy product comes from fermented soybeans and has lots of protein. With 19 grams of protein for every 100 grams of tempeh, [https]it's another excellent alternative to meat protein. Tempeh may also be made with flaxseed, further boosting its profile. Some variations are gluten-free, while others contain wheat, so people on a restricted diet should read labels carefully.

tempeh cakes AmalliaEka / Getty Images

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.