6 High-Protein Foods for Health

Protein is one of the three macronutrients that provides calories, the other two being fat and carbohydrates.

The main function of protein is to build, repair, and maintain structural tissues like muscles, bones, hair and skin. Maintaining structural tissues, specifically muscle and bone, is especially important for healthy aging.

This article lists the six best high-protein foods for your health.

protein foods

1. Eggs

One medium-sized egg provides six grams of high-quality protein (1).

Eggs are an excellent source of niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and selenium.

Additionally, egg yolks are an excellent source of choline, a mineral that is important for cell health, transporting fats, and supporting brain function. One egg yolk provides around 24% of the daily value for the nutrient (1, 2).

2. Animal meats

All animal meats are an excellent source of protein.

Animal meats include chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and bison, as well as wild game meats like pheasant, duck, and venison.

Animal meat provides six grams of protein per ounce (28 grams) and other important nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 (3).

Leaner animal meats contain the same amount of protein, but contain less fat. Examples of lean meats include chicken, turkey, pheasant, venison, and bison.

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout your body. The vitamin is also important for brain function (4).

3. Milk and dairy products

Milk and dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are good sources of protein.

One cup (8 fl oz) of milk contains eight grams of protein (5).

Greek yogurt is higher in protein compared with regular yogurt. Depending on the brand, Greek yogurt contains about 20 grams of protein per cup (225 grams), whereas regular yogurt contains about eight grams per cup (225 grams) (6, 7).

Low-fat and high-fat cheeses contain the same amount of protein. Different kinds of cheese will have varying but similar amounts of protein. For example, American cheese contains four grams of protein per slice (21 grams) and cheddar cheese contains five grams of protein per slice (21 grams) (8, 9).

Cottage cheese can also vary in protein content between brands, but it typically contains 26 grams per cup (225 grams) (10).

Milk and dairy products are also a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

It used to be thought that the saturated fat content in milk and dairy products contributed to heart disease, but newer research does not support this claim (11, 12, 13, 14).

Therefore, it may not be as important to choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Additionally, full fat dairy products are an excellent way to fortify diets for older adults.

4. Quinoa

While quinoa is a grain, and not usually known for its protein content, it is a good source of protein compared with other grains.

One cup (170 grams) of cooked quinoa provides about seven grams of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids (15, 16).

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body is able to make non-essential amino acids, while essential amino acids must be taken in through your diet.

Quinoa is also an excellent source of magnesium and manganese and provides five grams of fiber per cooked cup (170 grams).

5. Nuts and seeds

While different nuts and seeds can have varying amounts of protein, all are good sources of protein.

Here is the protein content per ounce (28 grams) of various nuts and seeds (17):

  • Pumpkin seeds/pepitas: nine grams
  • Peanuts: seven grams
  • Almonds: six grams
  • Sunflower seeds: five grams
  • Walnuts and cashews: four grams
  • Pecans: three grams

Nuts and seeds are nutrient dense, meaning they have a high number of nutrients relative the number of calories they contain. They are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, and magnesium.

The consumption of nuts and seeds has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease (18, 19, 20).

6. Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are another great protein option.

Here is the protein content per half-cup (130 grams) of various beans and lentils (17):

  • Black beans – nine grams
  • Kidney beans – eight grams
  • Lentils – eight grams
  • Pinto beans – seven grams
  • Lima beans – seven grams
  • Navy beans – seven grams
  • Garbanzo beans – seven grams
  • Mung beans – seven grams

Beans and lentils are good sources of fiber, containing about six grams per half-cup (130 grams).

Fiber can help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and assist in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels (13, 14, 15).

The bottom line

Protein is responsible for building, repairing, and maintaining structural tissues in the body. It also increases fullness.

Protein can be important for older adults to help with maintaining muscle and bone mass.

Both animal and plant foods can be high in protein.

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