Protein is the macronutrient needed for building muscle mass as well as facilitating many chemical reactions in the body. The three macronutrients essential for life are protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Proteins are composed of amino acids. While the human body can produce some amino acids, others must come from food. The nine amino acids we cannot produce naturally are known as the nine essential amino acids. They are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Depending on your health status, age, and activity level, protein needs can range from 0.8 grams/kg to 2 grams/kg for very active athletes. The average American needs to eat 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily.
1. Black Beans
Black beans are a fiber and protein-rich source of carbohydrates. 100 grams of beans provides 21.6 grams of protein, with a usual serving of 1 cup resulting in 41.9 grams of protein. This makes them a great part of any healthy diet. In general, legumes are packed with iron. Additionally, black beans are a good source of magnesium, thiamin, potassium, and folate. Folate and iron work together to support the production of red blood cells and improving blood flow, while folate plays an integral role in preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Folate also works with potassium to decrease the risk of heart-related issues.
One of the best animal products for protein, nutrients, and healthful fats are eggs. Whole eggs are high in protein, while egg whites on their own are almost purely protein. 35% of the calories in an egg come from protein with one large whole egg containing 6 grams of protein. Various studies have found that eggs can help a person feel satisfied and full for a more extended period, thus preventing overeating.
Eggs are versatile, can be eaten any time of the day, low in calories, affordable, and easy to store. One myth surrounding eggs is that they are bad for cholesterol levels and should be avoided. Fortunately, this claim is untrue. While eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, found in the yolks, the effect on blood cholesterol levels is minimal. If you are still feeling uneasy, egg whites are full of protein and have no dietary cholesterol to worry about.
3. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a soft, unaged cheese made from the curds of pasteurized cow’s milk. It can be found in varying curd sizes and levels of fat. This is one dairy product with an abundance of casein protein loaded with calcium, iron, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. Protein accounts for 70% of the calories in non-fat cottage cheese. Casein, the protein found in cottage cheese, digests more slowly than whey protein, feeding your muscles all day or night. In fact, studies have shown that cottage cheese mimics the same long-lasting fullness as eggs.
Oats have more protein than any other commonly found grain with 17 grams of protein per 100 grams of oats. Although oats are not a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids, they are still considered a high-quality protein source. Raw oats are easy to prepare, allowing you to control the amount of sugar that goes into your oatmeal. Furthermore, oats are a whole grain. Major benefits of eating whole grains are their relatively high fiber content, which can help lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, control blood glucose, and keep you feeling full long after eating.
5. Turkey Breast
Concerning protein, turkey breast has practically the same amount of protein – 29 grams protein per 100 grams of roasted turkey – as chicken breast, but with fewer calories and dietary cholesterol. Comparing the two, the nutritional values are similar enough that it comes down to flavor preference. Turkey has a firmer texture with a more distinct taste than chicken. Like all meats, turkey breast is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, including tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps regulate sleep. Tryptophan converts serotonin into melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. This process promotes a restful night’s sleep
Quinoa has risen to the top as one of the most popular exotic grains of our time. It is a native to the Andes mountains in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. In these regions, quinoa has been consumed for over 5,000 years. Although actually a seed rather than a grain, quinoa is a rare and unique plant protein. While most plant products contain only some of the essential amino acids, quinoa is one of the only complete vegetarian proteins. 100 grams of quinoa provides 14.1 grams of protein, making it a high-protein gluten-free vegan treasure.
Fruits are not the first thing you think of when it comes to protein. Actually, you might not even consider fruits at all. In fact, guava, while not the most common fruit, is the most protein-rich fruit. It also offers additional antioxidants vitamin C and lycopene. Guavas have more lycopene ounce for ounce than tomatoes and far more vitamin C than oranges. Carotenoids, like lycopene, from guavas, can protect the eye against light-induced damage, cataract development, and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). ARMD affects a person’s sight by gradually blurring vision, making it harder to read, write, recognize faces, and drive.
Fish, no matter which one, is high in protein with some varieties having more superior nutrients than others. Some fish even provide as much protein per ounce as chicken and lean beef. One thing to consider is your fish is wild or from a farm. In addition to the sustainability of issue, wild-caught fish is often higher in nutritional value. The number one protein-packed fish is halibut. Although containing a moderate amount of mercury, this white fish is an excellent addition to your diet with nearly 30 grams of protein in half a fillet.
Salmon is a great source of protein among other nutrients, making it one of the healthiest fatty fish. Next, we look at trout for our protein and mineral needs. Trout has all the essential minerals on top of being a protein-rich food source. Other fishes to try for satisfying your protein needs are cod, farmed tuna, and haddock.
Pistachios make for a great protein-filled snack with 20 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts. Contrary to popular belief, these small nuts are reasonably low in calories while rich in fiber, vitamin B6, iron, phosphorus, and vitamin E. One ounce of pistachios supplies the body with 1.14 grams of iron and 133 mg of phosphorus. Getting plenty of iron in your diet helps build a healthy immune system, prevent fatigue, and form red blood cells. Phosphorus, on the other hand, is crucial for bone health. The only drawback of pistachios is their sodium content. Look for a low-sodium or sodium-free variety as a healthier option.
10. Greek Yogurt
Another dairy option for a protein-packed snack is Greek yogurt. Non-fat Greek yogurt offers 48% of its calories as protein with 17 grams of protein in a single, 6-ounce serving of yogurt. The rapid rise in supply and demand of Greek yogurt is due to its higher protein content than traditional yogurts.
The protein found in Greek yogurt, casein, is the same as cottage cheese, making it an attractive choice for bodybuilders and anyone else looking to pack on the lean muscle. In addition to protein, Greek yogurt has loads of bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which is great for gut health and motility.