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17 Healthy Foods That'll Meet Your Daily Protein Needs (Plant & Animal)

Sanjana Gupta
Author: Expert reviewer:
Updated on August 17, 2023
Sanjana Gupta
By Sanjana Gupta
mbg Contributor
Sanjana Gupta has been a health writer and editor since 2014. She has a master's degree in digital journalism from New York University. She also holds a master's degree in management from the University of Mumbai.
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Expert review by
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Registered Dietitian
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, chef, and writer with a love of science and passion for helping people create life-long healthy habits. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, a Grand Diplôme in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute, and master's degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University.
August 17, 2023
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If you're trying to add more protein to your diet, you may be wondering where to start and how to go about it. Well, we did the heavy lifting to ask nutritionists all about the best high-protein foods to work into your daily routine. Ready to get started? Here are the top high-protein foods and combinations to try.

High-protein foods at a glance:

  • Free-range chicken breast (26 grams)
  • Fatty fish (21 grams)
  • Lean beef (23 grams)
  • Eggs (6 grams)
  • Greek yogurt (17 grams)
  • Cottage cheese (12 grams)
  • Kefir (9 grams)
  • Edamame (15 grams)
  • Quinoa (8 grams)
  • Tofu (7 grams)
  • Chickpeas (15 grams)
  • Peanuts (7 grams)
  • Almonds (6 grams)
  • Peas (8 grams)
  • Nutritional yeast (3 grams)
  • Whey protein (25 grams)
  • Plant protein (20 grams)

Why protein is important

Protein is one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and fats) that give the body energy in the form of calories, says Eleana Kaidanian, R.D., CDN, CPT-WFS, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer.

Proteins are frequently referred to as the building blocks of life, as your body is made up of over 10,000 different types of proteins.1

"Proteins are made up of amino acids, which your body uses for basic functions like maintaining hair, skin, nails, and bones, in addition to producing hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals," says J.J. Beasley, M.S., R.D., L.D., a performance dietitian at the University of Georgia.

Proteins are also necessary for the building and repair of muscles. "Not getting enough protein can lead to fractures, muscle wasting, and greater susceptibility to infection," Beasley adds.

How much protein to eat

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a person weighing 165 pounds, that works out to about 60 grams of protein per day.

However, it's important to note that the RDA is the absolute minimum intake2 required to prevent the loss of lean body mass and not necessarily the optimal intake for you. In fact, Beasley notes that the American College of Sports Medicine3 recommends 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram per day. For a person weighing 165 pounds, that works out to between 90 to 150 grams of protein per day.

Other nutrition experts also recommend eating more protein than the RDA suggests. "We find from a metabolic standpoint, working predominantly with women, that if they get below 100 grams per day, they lose most of the benefits of protein: fatty acid metabolism, insulin sensitivity, weight loss, satiety," Don Layman, Ph.D., one of the world's leading protein and amino acid requirements researchers, explains on the mindbodygreen podcast.

You might need even more protein if:

Research shows that your protein requirements are higher for people who are active2, pregnant, lactating4, or above the age of 655.

Still have questions? Here's a deeper dive into how women can find their optimal protein intake.


The RDA is the minimum protein intake that is recommended to prevent muscle loss. Experts suggest consuming above the RDA, and aiming for at least 100 grams of protein per day on average.

How to add more protein to your diet

If you're trying to add more protein to your diet, aim to eat protein-rich meals and snacks throughout the day.

For instance, if your goal is 100 grams of protein per day, it may sound like a lot when you first start out, but when you break it down meal by meal you might find that it's more doable than you think, says Beasley.

You can easily achieve your goal if you eat three meals a day with 25 to 30 grams of protein each (starting with a high-protein breakfast), and one or two snacks with 5 to 12 grams of protein each, Beasley explains.

However, remember that all protein sources are not equal. It's important to aim for high-quality, lean proteins and avoid foods that contain high levels of fat and sodium. Opt for a balanced diet that has varied sources of protein to ensure you get all the different essential amino acids your body requires—particularly leucine, which is key for muscle growth.


Eating 25-30 grams of high-quality protein during each meal and reaching for a few protein-rich snacks can help you achieve your daily needs without stress.

Animal protein sources

Animal-based sources of protein are complete proteins, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids in the proper amounts. However, some animal products come with a hefty environmental footprint.

Eat meat? Consider adding the following healthy, sustainable sources of animal protein to your plate:


Free-range chicken breast

  • 25.9 grams6 of protein per three-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast

Chicken is an easy way to get protein because it's so versatile, says Beasley. For instance, you can make crispy chicken thighs, a hearty chicken soup, or a Mediterranean-inspired chicken burger.

A three-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast offers 25.9 grams6 of protein. For better quality, ethically-raised meat, and higher nutritional value, Kaidanian recommends opting for free-range chicken.

What makes it healthy?

Chicken is a rich source of B vitamins, particularly niacin. One serving can provide over half your daily requirement of niacin, also known as vitamin B3.

Fatty fish

  • 21.6 grams7 of protein per three-ounce serving of salmon

Fatty fish offer protein in addition to healthy fats. For instance, a three-ounce serving of salmon offers 21.6 grams7 of protein. Fish also provides several important vitamins and minerals, like iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12, says Beasley.

Kaidanian recommends opting for wild seafood, which you can buy in fresh, frozen, or canned form. If you buy farmed fish, do so from a provider that prioritizes more sustainable practices.

Smaller "SMASH" fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and sardines) tend to be best from an environmental health perspective. Get creative and try different recipes, like salmon cakes and fish tacos.

What makes it healthy?

Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week for heart-protective benefits.

Lean beef

  • 23 grams8 of protein per three-ounce serving of lean beef

Beef can be a good source of protein, but it's important to choose lean, grass-fed cuts, says Kaidanian. Ideally, your meat will come from a ranch that utilizes regenerative grazing practices that reinvigorate soil health. A lean cut of beef can provide 23 grams8 of protein per three-ounce serving.

Slow-cooking beef is a great way to tenderize lean cuts. Just toss the ingredients for roast beef or a beef stew into a slow cooker and go about your day.

What makes it healthy?

Beef provides high-quality protein and also gives your body key minerals like zinc and iron, says Beasley.


Eggs are packed with protein that's easy to absorb, says Beasley. A large egg provides 6.3 grams9 of protein. In addition to being an affordable source of protein, eggs are also easy to cook and extremely versatile, says Kaidanian.

What makes it healthy?

Eggs are a rich source of folic acid. Two organic eggs can provide anywhere between 20% to 44% of your daily folate requirement.

Greek yogurt

  • 16.9 grams10 of protein per six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is a thicker, more concentrated form of yogurt that has more protein, says Kaidanian. A six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt provides 16.9 grams10 of protein.

You can eat Greek yogurt by itself or pair it with chopped nuts for additional protein. Add fruit or berries to boost the nutrition, fiber, and flavor, or incorporate your yogurt into a protein-packed green smoothie.

What makes it healthy?

Greek yogurt is a probiotic food, which means it contains healthy bacteria that support better immunity and gut health.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese has a creamy texture that makes it great for a snack by itself or as a replacement for ricotta cheese in recipes, says Kaidanian. A half-cup serving of cottage cheese provides 11.65 grams11 of protein. Pro tip: It pairs nicely with chunks of peaches, pineapples, or plums and goes great with eggs.

What makes it healthy?

Cottage cheese is a good source of vitamin A and vitamin B12, says Beasley.


Kefir is a liquid, fermented type of yogurt that is probiotic and naturally low in lactose, says Kaidanian. One cup of kefir offers 8.76 grams12 of protein. You can drink kefir as is, add it to smoothies, or use it as a replacement for buttermilk in recipes.

What makes it healthy?

Like other dairy products, kefir is a rich source of calcium. Calcium is an important ingredient for strong bones and teeth.

Plant protein sources

Plant protein can be highly nutritious but it's important to note that most sources of plant protein13 don't offer the right amount of all the nine essential amino acids. Therefore, if you follow a plant-based diet, you'll want to consume a wide variety of protein sources in order to meet your requirements. Here are a few to get you started:



  • 15 grams14 of protein per one-third cup of shelled edamame

Edamame beans are young soybeans. One-third cup of shelled edamame provides 15 grams14 of protein. You can steam edamame pods and season them with lemon, salt, and a dash of chili or pepper or simply add shelled edamame beans to your salads.

What makes it healthy?

One-third cup of edamame provides 6.04 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient that improves digestion and regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels.


Unlike most plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein that contains the right amounts of all nine essential amino acids, says Kaidanian. One cup of cooked quinoa offers 8.14 grams15 of protein.

This grain is very versatile and can be paired with veggies, meats, and gravies. It's also a great addition to salads and frittatas.

What makes it healthy?

Quinoa is a gluten-free whole grain, so it's a good option for people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.


Tofu is another soy-based product that is a good source of protein. A 100-gram serving of tofu offers 7.17 grams16 of protein.

Tofu comes in many different varieties and is quite versatile. It has a mild flavor so you can season it any way you like. Tofu scramble makes for a healthy breakfast, while a tofu and vegetable stir-fry is a great option for lunch or dinner. 

What makes it healthy?

A large study with over 200,000 participants found that eating tofu and soy-based products at least once a week helped reduce the risk of heart disease.


Beans are high in protein and fiber and naturally low in fat, says Kaidanian. They're also rich sources18 of micronutrients like potassium, zinc, folate, iron, and magnesium.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans or Bengal gram, are inexpensive and easy to use. One cup of boiled chickpeas offers 14.5 grams17 of protein. You can make chickpea hummus, add chickpeas to soups and stews, or roast chickpeas and eat them as a snack.

What makes it healthy?

Chickpeas are a good source of fiber, which promotes satiety and weight management.


Peanuts20 are nutrient-dense nuts, and a handful of them offer roughly 7.31 grams19 of protein. You can eat peanuts plain, roast them for some extra crunch, or enjoy peanut butter with celery sticks or apple slices.

What makes it healthy?

Peanuts contain plant-based compounds like phytosterols, resveratrol, phenolic acids, and flavonoids that block the absorption of cholesterol from your food.


Almonds are another convenient and portable protein-rich nut you can easily munch on while you're on the go, says Kaidanian. One ounce of almonds offers 6.01 grams21 of protein.

Apart from eating them plain, you can also use almonds to garnish soups, salads, yogurt, oatmeal, and chia pudding. Almond butter and fruit make for a healthy and satisfying midday snack.

What makes it healthy?

Nuts can also benefit heart health, explains Kaidanian. Eating a one-ounce serving of nuts at least five times a week is linked to a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease.


Green peas have one of the highest protein contents among vegetables. One cup of peas offers 7.86 grams22 of protein. Peas23 are also a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids in the right amounts.

You can add peas to salads, boil them and eat them as a side dish, or show them off in a spring pea toast or fresh vegetable soup.

What makes it healthy?

Peas are a good source of vitamin K. One cup of peas offers almost half your daily requirement of vitamin K1, a nutrient that promotes bone health.

Nutritional yeast

  • 3 grams24 of protein per two tablespoons of nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast, or nooch, is a form of deactivated yeast that has a cheesy, nutty flavor. Sprinkling a little nutritional yeast onto your food can help bump up its protein content. Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast provide 3 grams24 of protein. 

Nutritional yeast is often used in vegan cooking to add flavor and nutrition. You can sprinkle it over popcorn, nuts, or pasta. Or, you can add it to soups, sauces, or gravies for a thicker, creamier texture. Here are 17 ways to incorporate it into your meals.

What makes it healthy?

Nutritional yeast is a rich source of vitamin B12, a nutrient typically found only in animal-based foods that can sometimes be insufficient in vegan diets.

Protein powder sources

While whole foods are always preferable to supplements, protein powder can help fill any gaps in your diet. It's particularly useful for athletes or people with higher protein needs, plant-based eaters, and those who have busy schedules and don't always have time for a sit-down meal. Here are some types of protein powder to try for yourself:


Whey protein

One serving of milk-based whey protein powder can offer at least 25 grams25 of complete protein. Whey protein is known for its quick absorption and digestibility, robust amino acid profile, and high leucine content, says Beasley, so it's great for athletes or those looking to build muscle via muscle protein synthesis.

Kaidanian suggests selecting a grass-fed variety of whey protein powder that has no added flavors, colors, or sweeteners.


Blended plant protein

  • 20 grams26 of protein per serving of blended plant protein

Plant-based protein powders are a good alternative to whey if you're vegan or trying to reduce your carbon footprint27.

If you prefer a plant-based protein powder, Beasley recommends opting for a blend that has ingredients such as soy, pea, and hemp in order to ensure you get an adequate amino acid profile. Otherwise, plant proteins may not provide sufficient essential amino acids to meet your needs and you'll have to consume more of them to achieve the same effects.

One scoop (around 35 grams) of plant protein can provide 20 grams26 of protein. However, the actual amount of protein can vary depending on the blend you choose and the mix of ingredients it contains. Beasley recommends opting for a protein powder that contains at least 20 grams of protein and 2 grams of leucine per serving.

Pairing them together

If you're wondering how to ensure you eat enough protein at each meal, Beasley says the trick is to plan ahead, buy groceries accordingly, and prep your meals. 

These are some combinations that can help you meet your protein goals:

  • Chicken and edamame stir fry
  • Grilled fish with a side of boiled peas
  • Lean beef roast with grilled vegetables
  • Chia pudding with almonds and berries
  • Three bean salad with yogurt dressing
  • Blueberry kefir smoothie
  • Tofu scramble with nutritional yeast
  • Vegetable omelet

While you're planning your meals, it's important to remember that a healthy diet includes all three macronutrients, which need to be consumed with balance, says Kaidanian.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get 100 grams of protein a day?

You can get 100 grams of protein per day by planning ahead and making sure to include protein at each meal and snack you eat during the day. You can supplement your diet with protein powder, if needed.

What are high-protein foods for weight loss and muscle gain?

Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy-based products are high-protein foods that can help you gain muscle and lose weight, provided you eat them in appropriate portion sizes. Pairing protein with adequate exercise and sleep is also important.

What are high-protein breakfast foods?

Eggs, tofu scramble, yogurt or kefir smoothies, oatmeal, and chia pudding are some high-protein breakfast options.

The takeaway

Protein is an essential nutrient for energy and muscle building. It is also a vital component in hair, skin, bones, nails, hormones, enzymes, and other substances your body makes. Therefore, it's important to make sure you get enough protein in your diet to support your body's needs.

Try to plan your meals in advance, choose high-quality protein options, and opt for a balanced diet to ensure you're getting enough essential amino acids, fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients. And any time you up your intake, be sure to shop for sustainable protein sources whenever possible.

Sanjana Gupta author page.
Sanjana Gupta

Sanjana Gupta has been a health writer and editor since 2014. She has written extensively for platforms like Insider,, and Verywell Mind. Her work spans various health-related topics, including nutrition, fitness, mental health, medical conditions, and wellness.

Sanjana has a master's degree in digital journalism from New York University. She also holds a master's degree in management from the University of Mumbai.

She balances her love for chocolate with a penchant for fun workouts like aerial yoga and kickboxing.

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