Protein is the macronutrient needed for building muscle mass and facilitating many chemical reactions in the body. Two other macronutrients, fats and carbohydrates, are equally important. 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 the nine essential amino acids. They are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. The average person requires about 25% of their daily calories come from protein.
Black beans are a fiber- and protein-rich source of carbohydrates. 100 grams of beans provides 21.6 grams of protein, making them a great part of any healthy diet. In general, legumes are packed with iron. Additionally, black beans are a good source of magnesium, thiamin, potassium, and folate. Folate and iron work together to support the production of red blood cells and improving 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.
One of the best animal products for protein, nutrients, and healthful fats are eggs. Whole eggs are high in protein. In fact, 35% of the calories in an egg come from protein, and one large whole egg contains 6 grams. Studies show eggs can help a person feel satisfied and full for longer, helping prevent 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, 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.
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. 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.
Oats have more protein than any other common grain -- 17 grams per 100 grams. Although oats do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids, like most plant sources, they are still considered a high-quality option. Raw oats are easy to prepare, which means controlling sugar content and flavor is simple. 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.
Turkey breast has practically the same amount of protein (29 grams protein per 100 grams of roasted turkey) as chicken breast, but with fewer calories and dietary cholesterol. Comparing the two, the nutritional values are similar enough that it comes down to flavor preference. Turkey has a firmer texture with 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.
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 grain 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.
Fruits are not often considered as protein sources, but guava is the most protein-rich fruit. It also offers the antioxidants vitamin C and lycopene. Furthermore, carotenoids, like lycopene, from guavas, can protect the eye against light-induced damage, cataract development, and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). There is about 2.6 grams of protein in 100 grams of guava.
Fish, in general, is high in protein. Some varieties provide as much protein per ounce as chicken and lean beef. Wild-caught fish is generally higher in protein than farmed fish. 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.
Pistachios are a great protein-filled snack, with 20 grams of protein per 100 grams. Pistachios are somewhat high in calories but they're also rich in 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.
Non-fat Greek yogurt offers more than 60 percent of its calories as protein, with 17 grams in a single, 6-ounce serving. This impressive content compared to traditional yogurts is likely to thank for the variety's rapid rise in demand in recent years. 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 the lean muscle. In addition to protein, Greek yogurt has loads of bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which is great for gut health and motility.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
One of the best animal products for protein and nutrients is cheese. Generally, harder cheeses have more protein than softer cheeses. Parmesan has the highest protein content at ten grams per ounce. Swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella have seven to eight. Casein, the protein in cheese, digests more slowly than whey (another dairy protein) and can feed the muscles all day. Cheese is loaded with calcium, iron, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
Compared to other red meats, bison has less fat and fewer calories. A four-ounce bison burger patty has about six grams of fat and 17 grams of protein, making it one of the leanest meats around. In addition, bison meat is a great source of vitamin B12. In the US, the recommendation for B12 is 2.4 mcg per day for adults due to its vital role in red blood cell reproduction.
Pea protein has become popular among athletes and bodybuilders. Peas are a good source of bioavailable protein, meaning the body can break down and use the nutrient quite easily. Black-eyed peas contain the highest amount of pea protein, about 11 grams per cup. Peas also contain a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, especially thiamine, folate, niacin, phosphorous and zinc, nutrients vital to cell growth and development.
One serving of peanut butter, two tablespoons, provides seven grams of protein. While eating too much processed peanut butter results in an over-abundance of saturated fat, sticking to the natural varieties provides a high percentage of unsaturated fats; as always, moderation is key. Beyond protein, peanut butter delivers fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Magnesium is an important one: the mineral is used by every cell and is involved in more than 600 reactions in the body. Despite this, many Americans consume barely 50% of the recommended daily amount.
Soybeans are often considered the number one source of vegetable protein. One cup of boiled soybeans provides more than 20 grams. The main proteins in soybeans are glycinin and conglycinin. Unfortunately, heat denatures these proteins, so raw soybeans are a better source than cooked soybeans. Luckily, products like tofu and soy milk can contribute those important nutrients.
Seafood tends to be high in protein, with some varieties having more superior nutrition than others. Some seafood even provides as much per ounce as chicken and lean beef. Cooking oysters increases the bioavailability of protein; 100 grams of cooked Pacific oysters delivers about 19 grams of protein. This seafood is also rich in zinc, vitamin D, potassium, iron, and niacin.
The predominant protein found in milk is the same as cheese: casein. This makes the dairy product an attractive choice for bodybuilders and anyone else looking to pack on lean muscle. In addition to protein, milk is filled with bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which are great for gut health and motility. Far too many Americans do not consume enough calcium daily. This can lead to bone loss, low bone density, osteoporosis, and even broken bones.
Seeds are nutritious, calorie-dense snacks that deliver a range of nutrients. When aiming to boost protein intake, two of the best seed choices are sunflower and pumpkin. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides just over five grams of protein, as well as plenty of magnesium and zinc.
Sunflower seeds have slightly under five grams of protein per ounce, but also have significantly lower carb counts than pumpkin seeds. Sunflower seeds tend to be a bit milder in flavor than pumpkin seeds, as well.
Spirulina is an edible algae that grows in both salt and fresh waters. This blue-green algae contains fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and K, as well as healthy fatty acids, minerals, and beta-carotene. A single tablespoon offers four grams of protein and nearly half the daily value of copper.
This sea vegetable is usually sold in powdered form. Some people mix the powder into their daily protein shakes, while others like to add it to juices and desserts.
The simple chickpea is one of the most protein-rich legumes available, next to lentils and black beans. It is an essential ingredient in many plant-based protein supplements and is a core part of Mediterranean, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Because the chickpea is so versatile, it is easy to work into any kind of diet. Every 100 grams of cooked chickpeas delivers seven grams of protein. Try this mild legume in hummus, chili, or curry—or just roast them for an easy, protein-boosting snack.
Leafy greens are full of key vitamins, minerals, and fiber that contribute to a healthy diet and body. Though they are not famous for their protein levels, they are not slacking in that area either. Each 100-gram serving of kale comes with nearly three grams of protein and only about 40 calories.
Broccoli and spinach both offer similar protein levels and calorie counts—though spinach has the fewest calories. It is best to eat these foods raw, as cooking them can impact their nutrient profiles.
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