8 Best Sources of Protein, According to a Dietitian

by Ella

Protein, often referred to as the building block of life, plays a pivotal role in maintaining health and supporting bodily functions. From muscle development and repair to enzyme synthesis and immune system function, the importance of protein in the human diet cannot be overstated. As such, understanding the best sources of protein is essential for crafting a balanced and nutritionally sound diet. This article delves into the diverse world of protein-rich foods, highlighting their nutritional profiles and benefits.

Why do we need protein?

When people think of protein, thoughts of bodybuilders who are trying to sculpt the perfect muscles may come to mind. But protein is so much more than a weightlifter’s BFF. Protein, or rather the amino acids that make up protein, plays many essential roles in the body, including:

  • Promotes satiety, and therefore may support weight-management goals
  • May decrease the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Supports injury recovery
  • Reduces the risk of developing sarcopenia (age-related loss of skeletal muscle)
  • Helps keep the immune system functioning

How much protein should I eat?

For most people, a daily dose of around 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight is recommended. For weightlifters and strength athletes, 1.4 – 2g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended per day, with a recommendation of 1.2-1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day for endurance athletes. After exercise, protein is particularly important since muscles need it to recover and grow. A portion of protein (15-25g) is recommended within 30 minutes of exercise, when your muscles are particularly receptive to protein synthesis.


Can you eat too much protein?

For most of us, our daily protein requirements are easily achieved by a healthy, balanced diet. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55g for the average man and 50g for the average woman). This is because, in the long term, consuming too much protein might lead to health issues such as an increased risk of osteoporosis and a worsening of an existing kidney problem. However, research in this area is mixed and it is likely that other factors may influence outcome, such as whether the protein is of animal or vegetable origin and how balanced the diet is in terms of vitamins and minerals.


One of the main issues with Western diet is that our breakfasts and lunches are often low in protein but high in carbohydrates, with a protein-packed evening meal. It is better to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Try our suggestions for high-protein breakfasts, high-protein lunches and high-protein dinners.


8 Optimal Sources of Protein for a Balanced Diet

1. Lean Meat and Poultry:

Lean meat and poultry stand as longstanding favorites in the realm of protein-rich foods. Chicken breast, turkey, and cuts of lean beef, such as sirloin, offer high-quality protein with relatively low fat content. These meats are not only rich in essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, but they also provide vital nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

2. Fish and Seafood:

Fish and seafood are renowned for their healthful attributes, thanks to their high protein content and rich nutrient profiles. Fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, and trout, bring an extra nutritional boost by providing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats contribute to cardiovascular health and brain function, making fish a standout choice for those seeking optimal protein and overall well-being.

See Also: 8 High-Protein Fish Varieties

3. Eggs:

Eggs are a nutritional marvel, delivering an impressive array of nutrients within their compact shells. Eggs serve as an excellent protein source, boasting a complete amino acid profile that supports various bodily functions. Beyond protein, eggs provide essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, choline, and selenium. Their versatility in cooking and meal preparation makes eggs a staple in countless cuisines.

See Also: All You Must Know About the Egg Diet

4. Dairy Products:

Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are well-regarded sources of protein that also bring a dose of calcium and other nutrients to the table. Greek yogurt, in particular, is celebrated for its protein density and probiotic content, which supports gut health. Incorporating dairy into one’s diet can contribute to bone health, muscle recovery, and overall nutritional balance.

5. Legumes:

For individuals seeking plant-based protein sources, legumes shine as nutritional powerhouses. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are rich in both protein and dietary fiber, promoting satiety and digestive health. Legumes also provide an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall well-being. By pairing legumes with grains, individuals can create complete protein sources comparable to animal-based options.

6. Nuts and Seeds:

Nuts and seeds are more than just crunchy snacks; they are also potent sources of protein and healthy fats. Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds offer a satisfying crunch while delivering essential nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds into the diet can enhance cardiovascular health and provide a nourishing source of energy.

See Also: Nuts & Seeds: Types, Health Benefits & Warnings

7. Tofu and Tempeh:

Tofu and tempeh are well-known in vegetarian and vegan circles as versatile protein sources derived from soybeans. Tofu’s neutral flavor and ability to absorb marinades make it adaptable to a wide range of dishes, while tempeh’s nutty taste and firm texture add depth to plant-based meals. Both tofu and tempeh offer complete proteins and are valuable components of a balanced plant-based diet.

8. Quinoa:

Quinoa stands as a unique grain that boasts a remarkable protein content compared to other grains. This pseudocereal contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. Quinoa also provides fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and magnesium. Its versatility makes it an excellent base for salads, bowls, and side dishes that pack a protein punch.

See Also: 11 High-Protein, Low-Calorie Foods

FAQs About Protein

Q1. What are complete and incomplete proteins?

Complete proteins contain all essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins lack one or more of these building blocks. Animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are complete proteins, while plant-based sources can be combined to create complete protein profiles.

Q2. Can I get enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet?

Yes, plant-based diets can provide sufficient protein through sources like legumes, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Combining various plant-based sources can help ensure complete amino acid profiles.

Q3. Does consuming protein help with weight loss?

Protein-rich foods can increase feelings of fullness and promote muscle preservation during weight loss. Including adequate protein in your diet may support weight loss efforts.

Q4. Are there benefits to consuming protein after exercise?

Consuming protein post-exercise can aid muscle recovery and growth. Protein provides amino acids that repair and rebuild muscle tissue, especially after intense workouts.

See Also: Do Protein Shakes Help You Gain Weight?[Revealed!]

Q5. Can protein intake affect hair and nail health?

Protein is essential for the formation of keratin, a protein that makes up hair and nails. A balanced diet with adequate protein can contribute to healthy hair and nails.

Q6. Does cooking affect protein content in foods?

Cooking can cause minor protein denaturation, but it generally does not significantly impact protein content. Some cooking methods may affect nutrient bioavailability.


In the quest for optimal health, choosing the best sources of protein is a fundamental step. Whether deriving protein from lean meats, fish, dairy, legumes, or plant-based alternatives, the key lies in diversity and balance. Combining various protein-rich foods not only ensures a complete array of essential amino acids but also delivers a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients crucial for overall well-being.

Understanding individual dietary preferences, health goals, and lifestyle choices is integral to creating a diet rich in high-quality protein sources. By incorporating lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant-based proteins, individuals can harness the power of protein to support muscle function, promote satiety, and contribute to long-term health. As the foundation of life, protein is a nutritional pillar that deserves a place of prominence in a balanced and nourishing diet.



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