Protein is one of three essential macronutrients and is necessary for building muscles and facilitating many chemical reactions in the body. Proteins are composed of amino acids. While the human body can produce some amino acids, others must come from food. The amount of protein a person needs depends on their health, age, and activity level; it can range from 0.8 grams/kg to 2 grams/kg for very active individuals. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious high-protein foods available.
Lentils are a fiber- and protein-rich source of carbohydrates. One hundred grams of lentils provides nine grams of protein; a one-cup serving offers 17.9 grams. This makes lentils a great part of any healthy diet, especially since they’re also rich in iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and the B vitamin folate. Folate and iron work together to support the production of red blood cells and improve blood flow, and with potassium, it can decrease the risk of heart disease. This B vitamin also plays an integral role in preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy.
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.
Chicken breast has practically the same amount of protein — about 20 grams per 100 grams — as turkey breast. Ultimately, the nutritional values are similar enough that it comes down to flavor preference. Like all meats, chicken is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, including tryptophan, an amino acid that helps regulate sleep by converting serotonin into melatonin.
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.
Chia seeds are another great source of protein, containing 16.5 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds. Additionally, chia seeds are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Experts believe the combination of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and fiber helps prevent dyslipidemia (excessive fat in the blood) and insulin resistance. They also increase satiety, which can help control weight.
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.