If you are trying to increase your protein intake naturally, there are a lot of high protein foods that you should definitely include in your diet, either of animal or plant origin. Indeed, nature offers us a wide variety of options to choose from.
Let’s take a look together at the many foods you can eat to get plenty of proteins.
What are proteins?
The word “protein” comes from Greek mythology, and more precisely from the god Proteus. He was a marine deity who could change his form as many times as he wanted. The same goes for proteins: they too change shape at will.
Scientifically, proteins are polymers of amino acids linked via α-peptide bonds. They are thus made up of a precise sequence of amino acids which determines their shape and function within the body.
In food, proteins are part, along with carbohydrates and lipids, of macronutrients. They thus contribute to energy intake.
Whenever we eat foods containing protein, the protein is digested in the gastrointestinal tract, absorbed as peptides, and free amino acids, and then used for protein resynthesis in our cells.
In addition, amino acids are stored in our cells to ensure the renewal of proteins, which are constantly degraded, then synthesized again.
In total, 20 different amino acids can be used for the production of proteins, 9 of which are said to be essential: leucine, threonine, lysine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, valine, methionine, isoleucine, histidine. Thus, they must be provided by food because they cannot be synthesized by the body.
High protein foods of animal origin
If you want to increase your protein intake, you can find it in various foods of animal origin. Red meat is the most “known”, but it is far from the only one available to you. Be sure to diversify your nutritional intake through a balanced and varied diet composed, among other things, of animal and vegetable proteins!
The average protein content of meat is around 18%, making it a popular source of animal protein. With meat, the protein intake is considerable and optimal. Of course, the type of meat, the piece, and the cooking determine the protein content of each piece. Beef flank has 30% protein: it is the champion in all categories! Here are some other interesting data:
- Porkchop: 29 grams of protein / 100 grams
- Ground beef: 30 grams
- Pork ham: 36 grams
- Veal cutlet: 31 grams
- Pork shoulder: 30 grams
All meats contain protein. We advise you to vary them as part of your diet, and not to overdo it. Excess protein can be bad for your health, but so can excess saturated fat like those found in meat. Not to mention that meat is an acidic element for the body.
Indeed, the acidity of meat can disturb the acid-base balance of the body. Therefore, we need to consume alkaline foods to restore it, especially through vegetable protein sources. Remember to accompany your animal proteins with various vegetables and fruits. Also, opt for lean meats to limit your fat intake and alternate your sources of protein.
Game is not always the most consumed meat, but it is nevertheless an important source of animal protein. In fact, game contains around 22% protein. We should therefore not exclude game when we seek to increase our protein intake.
Roe deer, red deer, wild boar… These meats are very interesting sources of animal protein, which allow you to vary your diet. But beware, game meat is much more intense to the taste!
As with game meat, organ meats can be categorized as “meat”. Organ meats, also known as offal, and in particular the liver of animals are very rich in proteins. They are also excellent sources of iron easily assimilated by the body. And that’s not all. Organ meats are also pieces of red meat low in fat, which limits the cardiovascular risk that other types of meat promote.
Besides the different meats, poultry is also a valuable source of animal protein. It has the advantage of being much less fatty than meat and has an important nutritional value. Indeed, chicken, turkey, quail, and all poultry contain protein in significant amounts. Chicken breast, for example, contains 31 grams of protein per 100 grams. Turkey breast has 18 grams of protein / 100 grams.
Poultry is a good way to diversify your animal protein intake while limiting fat intake. Likewise, they allow you to cook a variety of meals and optimize your nutritional intake throughout the year.
Athletes particularly appreciate poultry for the protein/lipid ratio it offers. It is an accessible source of animal protein, less expensive than meat, and which can be cooked in a thousand ways.
Eggs are a great source of animal protein. An egg is 12-13% protein, which is quite a bit. In fact, egg proteins are the benchmark proteins. This means that their amino acid composition is optimal, and eggs are used to determine the quality of other sources of protein, whether animal or vegetable.
Egg yolks contain more protein than white, but it is best to eat them whole to benefit from all the nutritional value of the food.
Eggs also contain other nutrients of interest to our body. In addition, they are eaten in many ways, which makes them a very valuable food source. You can cook them in different ways over the weeks to vary your dishes and thus benefit from their nutritional qualities.
White and fatty fish
All fish contain animal protein. Some fish contain more than others, but the proportions per serving remain very close. Tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel are particularly rich in protein.
Fish contain between 19 and 30 grams of protein per 100 grams. This content varies according to the species consumed. White fish such as cod, sole, or cod contain between 23 and 26 grams of protein per 100 grams of flesh. For fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, etc.), this value is rather around 23 to 25 grams.
Unlike meat, fish is low in saturated fat and contains omega 3 fatty acids. These are beneficial for cardiovascular health and brain health
Like fish, seafood contains animal protein. On average, they contain 20%, which is a perfectly correct rate! A lot of athletes consume seafood as an interesting alternative to meat. In general, seafood has the advantage of being low in fat, and very high in nutrients.
They also contain essential minerals and trace elements, as well as vitamins. The seafood richest in vegetable protein are prawns (19 grams / 100 grams), clams (18 grams / 100 grams), crabs (17 grams / 100 grams) and scallops (15 grams / 100 grams).
Mussels and oysters are also good sources, with respectively 12 and 10 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Many people are unaware that by consuming dairy products, they are also consuming animal protein! In fact, milk contains proteins that are found in all products made with: yogurts, cheeses, etc.
A yogurt contains approximately 4 grams of protein per 100 grams. For Greek yogurt, this value rises to 8 grams / 100 grams. One cup of milk can contain up to 10 grams of protein. Cottage cheese contains even more protein than yogurt.
Cheeses have the advantage of containing ferments which help to regulate the intestinal flora. Dairy products are also very rich in calcium, vitamins, and minerals essential for human metabolism.
Among the cheeses richest in protein, we find Beaufort, goat cheese, Parmesan. Some of them can contain more than 36% protein (like Parmesan which is very dense), which is considerable.
Of course, we don’t eat as much cheese as we eat meat: everything will depend on the quantities consumed.
Uncooked pressed cheeses contain around 26% protein. This rate drops to 20 grams for soft, blue-veined cheeses.
High protein foods of plant origin
Unlike animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, etc.), vegetable proteins come from plants. In the body, they play the same role as animal proteins. Simply, they do not have the same combinations of amino acids.
Some sources of plant protein are complete since they contain all of the essential amino acids. Others are not complete and should ideally be associated and completed.
In the plant kingdom, the sources of protein are very varied. They are found in more or less large quantities depending on the foods and their families. Globally, all foods contain it, even in tiny amounts.
Generally speaking, protein is found in large amounts in grains. Among the most concentrated in proteins are amaranth, wheat, oats, bulgur, millet, barley, rice, wild rice, quinoa, rye, sorghum… Each of these provides a high concentration of vegetable proteins.
Furthermore, they are often combined with legumes and beans, which are also excellent sources of protein of plant origin.
Quinoa in particular is an excellent source of protein (14 grams per 100 grams of quinoa) since it contains all the essential amino acids for the body. These are the amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own.
Moreover, the glycemic index of quinoa is very low, which makes it a very healthy food!
Oats are also a preferred cereal for their protein content (12 grams per 100 grams of flakes). Ideally, vary the grains you eat each day.
There is a significant amount of protein in legumes. They are preferred because of their satiating power.
Among the legumes to consume are fenugreek, all types of beans, broad beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, split peas, soybeans, mung beans.
Also, peas (yes, they’re legumes!) contain 5 grams of protein per 100 grams, which is a pretty good score. Beans, which come in many shapes and colors, can contain around 14 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Added to this little list are chickpeas (9 grams of protein per 100 grams), which are very high in fiber and low in calories. Never forget to vary your meals!
Among the best sources of vegetable protein is spirulina. This cyanobacterium can contain up to 75% protein. This content often varies according to its quality: it must therefore be chosen well.
Spirulina also holds the record for all plant foods rich in protein. It also contains many other micronutrients, including vitamins, trace elements, calcium, minerals, iron, and magnesium.
It is also an excellent source of iron to combine with vitamin C.
Spirulina has therapeutic properties demonstrated, among other things, by its satietogenic effects (in other words “appetite suppressant”), which are excellent for anti-obesity treatment.
Very rich in protein, soybeans contain more than 35 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds. It is for this reason that it is preferred by people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Indeed, it is a very good alternative to beef for those who follow a diet without animal meat.
Soy milk can also replace cow’s milk in the preparation of certain yogurts and other products. Soy farms are also used in the preparation of the famous tofu, which contains 19 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Soy is generally beneficial for health. It preserves cardiovascular health and acts in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Many lactose-intolerant athletes turn to soy protein as part of their supplementation. And contrary to popular belief, soy does not act on hormones.
There is no particular contraindication to a reasoned consumption of soya. However, as with any other food product, it should not be abused.
Whether eaten lightly grilled or plain, pumpkin seeds are recommended to fill a protein deficiency. For a 100-gram serving of these seeds, you can get up to 25 grams of protein, which is considerable!
These seeds are often incorporated into baked goods like dry cake or bread to disguise their rather bitter taste. They can also be used to enhance salads or soups.
Chia seeds and hemp seeds
Many types of seeds contain interesting shares of protein. This is the case with chia seed and hemp seed. Chia seed can contain up to 17% protein. It is also a natural source of omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, and many other essential nutrients.
Chia seeds have the advantage of integrating many cooking recipes and allow a feeling of more lasting satiety.
Hemp seeds, which are also rich in fiber and nutrients (omega 3, vitamin E), are also a good natural source of plant protein and an antioxidant food.
Hemp seed is made up of 25% protein and has eight different essential amino acids. It can also be consumed in the form of a healthy vegetable oil. But in general, all seeds are interesting for their protein content: poppy, sunflower, sesame, sprouted radish, lupine seeds, flax seeds, etc.
Peanut butter provides the same level of protein as pumpkin seeds, i.e., 25 grams per 100 grams of peanut. Rich in vitamin B3, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc, peanuts considerably reduces the risk of cardiovascular events.
Often used as an oil, peanuts are also often consumed before endurance or strength training for the energy it provides.
The effectiveness of peanuts is clinically proven to support good heart health and blood circulation. Peanut butter contains good fats (unsaturated fatty acids) which help lower bad cholesterol levels and increase good ones.
If you do not like peanuts, you can opt for almonds, which are also rich in protein (21 grams / 100 grams) and are a good snack.
Azuki bean is a legume that contains a high level of protein, 25 grams per 100 grams. It is often associated with other legumes such as chickpeas or lentils but is distinguished by the fact that it tastes more flavorful.
Azuki beans are generally rich in several vitamins, fiber, carbohydrates, fats, and also antioxidants. They are an excellent food supplement in case of malnutrition. If you haven’t tried them yet, this is your chance to include them in your diet!
Chickpeas are a very good source of vegetable protein. For their high protein content (19 grams per 100 grams), but also their high content of easily assimilated carbohydrates, chickpeas are an excellent food to fill a meatless diet.
Used in couscous or to make hummus, chickpeas are also rich in vitamins and minerals. Among their many qualities, we can also highlight the fact that they are beneficial for good intestinal health and low in fat. Hence the fact that many vegetarian athletes have already integrated pea protein into their diet or through supplementation.
Among the best sources of vegetable protein are also oilseeds: almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc. These oleaginous fruits contain essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and essential trace elements as well as an interesting part of proteins.
In puree, powder, eaten fresh, roasted, or in your desserts… Oilseeds are not only tasty they also provide you with nutrients in surprising quantities.
Other foods rich in protein
A few other foods contain interesting amounts of protein. These include green vegetables. They contain proteins, in addition to fiber, antioxidant compounds, essential vitamins, and minerals.
While their protein content is not as high as that of cereals or legumes, the contributions allowed by green vegetables should not be neglected.
How much protein do you need per day?
The daily recommendations for protein intake are 0.36g/kg/d, for men and women. This means that a 140-pound woman should consume about 50 grams of protein each day.
A protein is considered to be of high quality when it provides all of the essential amino acids and is well absorbed by the body. This is the case for proteins of animal origin such as milk, eggs, beef, chicken, but also soy.
In athletes, protein requirements per day are higher and depend on the sport practiced, the volume of training, and the athlete’s goals (mass gain, weight loss, etc.).
Consequences of a protein deficiency
As we’ve said, proteins are essential nutrients for the body to function properly. They give us energy, help build our muscles, help us heal wounds, and increase the feeling of fullness. When we consume too few calories, the body draws on its protein reserves for energy, to the detriment of our muscles, our immune system, our hair, our skin, our nails, etc.
To establish the right amount of protein to consume, you must consider various factors including activity level, age, muscle mass, and general health. Here are some signs that you may be suffering from a protein deficiency.
The relentless urge to eat something between meals may indicate that your diet is too high in carbohydrates and sugars, but too low in protein, which is essential for regulating blood sugar levels.
Weakness or pain in the muscles and joints could be a sign that the body is having trouble functioning because it uses protein instead of calories. Muscle tissues and cells need these proteins to renew themselves properly.
Hair, nail, and skin problems
Thin, falling hair, peeling skin, and ridged nails are some of the first signs of a protein deficiency. We need plenty of protein to rebuild our cells, tissues, skin, and to strengthen our immune system.
Protein plays an important role in maintaining fluids and their accumulation in tissues, especially in the feet and ankles.
Lack of energy
If you fall ill more often than usual, have a foggy brain, suffer from unusual bouts of fatigue and a constant feeling of being in a fog, you might be lack proteins. If you feel that your immune system is particularly weak, talk to your doctor and bring up the subject of protein.
Signs that you are eating too much protein
Although essential for a good diet, it is easy to eat too much protein. Here are the signs to watch out for.
You are gaining weight
If you find yourself gaining weight when you did not want to, you might be eating too much protein. Additionally, if you also increase your intake of various other nutrients such as fiber, you will see your weight increase dramatically. It is therefore imperative that you carefully monitor your daily intake.
You are experiencing kidney problems
Another sign of high protein in your diet is that your kidneys start acting up. If you suddenly find yourself having kidney problems, chances are your high protein diet is the cause.
Symptoms related to kidney problems are manifold and can manifest as changes in urination, fatigue, swelling, a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea and discomfort, a feeling of cold.
Indeed, an excessive amount of protein would mean extra work for your kidneys and therefore significant stress. The diagnosis is not confirmed most of the time until after consultation with a doctor. So don’t hesitate to see your doctor as soon as you start to have doubts.
You get inexplicably dehydrated
When your kidneys are dealing with large amounts of protein, they release a substance called urea nitrogen in the blood in large quantities. The latter is produced in greater quantities as your amount of protein increases.
Because this substance is dangerous for your body, your body must use water to eliminate it. This operation can therefore lead to dehydration. In this sense, it is then important that you pay attention to any sign of dehydration especially when your water intake has not changed.
A calcium deficiency
If you eat too much protein, you could end up with calcium deficiency in your bones. This is because your body uses calcium to digest the acids in the proteins you eat. When the amount of protein you eat is too high, your body depletes its calcium stores and therefore turns to your bones for their calcium to continue digestion. This will lead you to weaker bones and increase your risk of fractures.
You have heart problems
Proteins of animal origin have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. The more you eat these proteins, the more you allow these fatty acids to affect your heart. On the other hand, proteins of plant origin do not represent a risk.
Marquis was born in Paris, France and emigrated to United States at the early age of 5. He gained a medical degree from the University of Michigan and has worked as a dermatologist for over 10 years. He covers a wide-range of health related subjects for the Scientific Origin.