High protein foods – protein Chart

Protein is an important macronutrient that serves many vital functions in the human body. Getting enough high-quality protein in your diet is essential for growth, development, and maintaining health. This comprehensive protein chart provides detailed information on the best food sources, dietary recommendations, and health impacts of protein intake.

What is Protein and Why Do We Need It?

Protein is a key structural component in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and nearly every part of the body. This macronutrient is made up of smaller compounds called amino acids that link together in various sequences to form protein molecules.

20 different amino acids combine in diverse ways to carry out protein’s main functions:

  • Growth and repair of body tissues
  • Production of important enzymes and hormones
  • Formation of antibodies to strengthen the immune system
  • Transport and storage of nutrients and molecules
  • Providing energy when carbs and fat are not available

Without adequate protein intake, these vital jobs cannot be performed effectively, leading to low energy, muscle wasting, hormonal issues, weak immunity, and poor growth in children.

Adults need protein for tissue maintenance and repair, while children require it to support development and growth. Pregnant women also have increased protein needs to nourish the developing baby.

People who engage in strength training, athletes, older adults, or those recovering from injury also need elevated protein intake to rebuild muscle. Overall, protein is a crucial dietary component for people of any age.

Top Protein Food Sources

Many common foods contain high-quality protein. Most protein is derived from animal-based products, but a variety of plant-based protein sources also exist for vegetarians and vegans.

The top categories of foods providing concentrated protein per serving are:


  • Fish like tuna, salmon, cod
  • Shellfish including shrimp, mussels, oysters
  • Other seafood options like squid, lobster, clams

Seafood tends to contain 15-25 grams of protein per 3-5 ounces serving. Fatty fish varieties like salmon fish and mackerel also provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Meat and Poultry

  • Beef, pork, lamb, game meat
  • Chicken, turkey, duck
  • Organ meats like liver

Most meats supply about 25-30 grams of protein per 3-5 ounce portion. Meat proteins are highly bioavailable and contain all essential amino acids. Red meats should be consumed in moderation due to links with certain health risks.

Eggs and Dairy

  • Eggs
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Cottage cheese

Eggs (6-7 grams each) and dairy products like milk or plain yogurt (8 grams per cup) offer excellent nutrition in protein, vitamins, minerals, and more. Those sensitive to lactose can often tolerate yogurt or hard-aged cheeses.

Legumes, Nuts, Seeds

  • Beans: kidney, pinto, black, white
  • Lentils, chickpeas, green peas
  • Almonds, walnuts, pistachios
  • Peanut butter
  • Sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flax seeds

Beans contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. Nuts and seeds have 5-7 grams per ounce. Though lower than animal sources gram-for-gram, these plant proteins provide benefits like fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Those watching carbs or calories should portion nuts and nut butter.

Soy Products

  • Tofu, tempeh
  • Soy milk
  • Edamame

Soy foods including tofu (10 grams per 3 ounces) or soy milk (7 grams per cup) offer complete plant proteins comparable to dairy and meat. Fermented soy like tempeh contains probiotics for digestive health. Those with hormone issues should moderate soy intake.

Grains and Starches

  • Whole grain breads
  • Oats, millet, quinoa, brown rice
  • Starchy vegetables like corn, peas, potatoes

Though lower in protein than other groups, grains (5-7 grams per cup) and starchy veggies contain some protein in addition to valuable nutrients like fiber, iron, and antioxidants. Pairing these with a protein boosts the amino acid content.

Protein Supplements

  • Whey, casein
  • Soy, pea, rice protein powders
  • Protein bars

Those struggling to meet needs through whole foods may benefit from protein supplements, especially active individuals and athletes. But food sources should form the foundation of intake due to greater nutritional benefits.

This covers many of the top foods supplying protein, though many other less obvious items also provide smaller amounts. Tracking intake to ensure variety and adequate totals is important.

How Much Protein Do You Need Daily?

The specific optimal protein intake varies based on individual factors like age, health status, and activity level. General minimum recommendations have been established by health organizations, though research continues to investigate details.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Protein

This is the minimum advised daily amount to meet the needs of over 97% of healthy people in each demographic group. The current RDAs for protein based on age and gender are:

  • Children ages 1-3: 13 grams
  • Children ages 4-8: 19 grams
  • Children ages 9-13: 34 grams
  • Girls ages 14-18: 46 grams
  • Boys ages 14-18: 52 grams
  • Women ages 19+: 46 grams
  • Men ages 19+: 56 grams

These amounts represent estimated sufficient protein consumption if Getting 10-35% of total daily calories from this key macronutrient, with the higher end applying to those who are very physically active. Consuming the RDA or more is believed to support growth, health, and longevity for most individuals.

Additional Protein Needs

In certain situations, protein intake above the RDA is recommended or found to be beneficial. These include:

  • Strength training: Experts suggest 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight daily, or potentially more. This enhanced protein intake helps to build and maintain muscle mass.
  • Athletes: Endurance and sports athletes need 1.2-1.7 grams per kg body weight to optimize performance and recovery.
  • Weight loss: Higher intake of up to 25-30% of calories may aid fat loss and retention of lean muscle while cutting calories.
  • Pregnancy/nursing: An additional 25 grams per day is recommended to support fetal development and breast milk production.
  • Seniors: Many older adults benefit from a higher intake of around 1-1.2 g/kg daily to help preserve muscle, strength, and functionality with aging.

Customizing protein quantities to reflect personal lifestyle factors leads to heightened benefits versus following a one-size-fits-all approach.

Key Health Benefits of Protein-Rich Eating Patterns

Beyond providing the structural components of muscle and tissues throughout the body, ample intake of protein-rich foods is linked to several valuable health effects including:

Weight Management

  • Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, curbing hunger better than fat or refined carbs. This spontaneous reduction of subsequent calories promotes sustainable weight loss and maintenance.
  • The body burns more calories metabolizing protein than it does processing fats or carbs. Called the thermic effect, this can add up to 80-100 more calories burned daily on high-protein diets.
  • During calorie restriction, increased protein reduces muscle loss that normally occurs. Preserving metabolically active lean muscle mass helps sustain daily energy expenditure.

Glycemic Control

  • Compared to refined grain foods, protein-rich items have a milder impact on blood sugar. This helps maintain steady insulin levels, especially beneficial for those with diabetes or metabolic disease.
  • Pairing protein with carb-heavy foods slows their digestion and tempers blood sugar spikes. Adding chicken to rice, nuts into oatmeal, or eggs alongside toast makes the meal more glycemically balanced.

Injury Recovery

  • Higher protein facilitates muscle and tissue repair needed during post-surgery healing, intensive training, or after suffering severe wounds. This reduces recovery time and scar tissue formation.
  • Additional intake also helps curb muscle wasting during extended bed rest or limb immobilization. Maintaining strength protects physical functionality.

Heart Health

  • Replacing refined carbohydrates and saturated fats with lean proteins lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and biomarkers for cardiovascular disease like homocysteine and lipoprotein.
  • Amino acids like arginine and glutamine in proteins relax blood vessels, support healthy blood pressure, and enhance circulation. These vascular benefits reduce heart attack and stroke risk.

Immune Resilience

  • Certain proteins act as antibodies circulating through fluids and mucosa, functioning as the front line of defense against pathogens. Amino acid intake is vital for maintaining protective immune cells and molecules.
  • Deficiency during periods of acute infection hinders white blood cell production and activity, whereas higher consumption supports immune response and recovery.

Evaluating Protein Quality

When selecting high-protein foods to meet daily needs, quality matters as much as quantity. The most beneficial protein sources efficiently provide all the essential amino acids required by humans contained within highly digestible matrices that the body can easily break down and absorb.

Several key metrics gauge protein quality:

Biological Value (BV)

This measures how efficiently the body can capture amino acids once digested and absorb protein. Values range from 0-100% with higher indicating useful protein rather than waste byproducts. Eggs (94%), milk (84%), and soy (74%) have very high BV.

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)

Building on BV, this index adjusts for digestibility to rate proteins from 0-1.0. Any over 1.0 is rounded down, with higher scores being more beneficial. Casein, whey (1.0) egg and soy proteins (.9-.98) have very high PDCAAS.

Limiting Amino Acid

The essential amino acid contained in the smallest quantity relative to human requirements determines the quality and bioavailability of that protein. Grains are limited in lysine, while legumes have less sulfur-containing amino acids. Combining them complements limiting acids.

Net Protein Utilization (NPU)

Representing the overall use of protein consumed, NPU measures nitrogen absorbed by the body versus the amount ingested. Like other ratings, values span 0-100% with more suggesting better efficiency. Eggs (94%) and nonfat milk (82%) excel in NPU.

When choosing proteins, select options with higher quality scores to ensure digestibility and complete essential amino acid intake. Blending lower-quality plant proteins can enhance their limiting amino acid balance to better support human nutritional needs.

Building a Protein-Rich Diet Plan

Developing a satisfying, sustainable eating pattern that delivers enough high-quality protein involves several key habits:

Include Protein at Each Meal and Snack

Spread protein intake evenly throughout the day by incorporating moderate amounts with every meal and filling snack. Around 20-40 grams per meal neatly meets the needs of many adults. Have nuts between meals and Greek yogurt before bed for sustained amino acid levels.

Vary Protein Food Sources

For a diversity of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components, regularly rotate through different categories. Eat seafood a few days a week, eggs and dairy in moderation, daily legumes and nuts, moderate meat intake, and perhaps occasional protein supplements.

Pair Protein with Other Macros and Fiber

Balancing each moderate protein serving with healthy whole-food fats, complex carbs, and fiber maximizes satiation while delivering well-rounded nutrition. Think lean beef and sweet potato, chicken stir-fried with vegetables, or salmon over greens and quinoa.

Experiment with Spices, Sauces, Sides

Preparing proteins with flavor-boosting items prevents taste fatigue or boredom while adding minimal calories. Herbs, spices, vinegar, mustards, salsa, lemon juice, chimichurri sauce, cruets, and condiments keep meals exciting.

Limit Processed Meats

While whole food protein sources have health advantages, heavily processed items like bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, and sausage often contain preservatives, additives, and excess sodium that should be minimized.

Strategically incorporating quality proteins from a spectrum of whole food sources evenly throughout each day reliably meets requirements and promotes optimal wellness.

Protein Conversion Charts

Tracking total intake and planning balanced protein-rich meals is aided by knowing the amounts found in common items. Here is an at-a-glance protein chart with key foods listed alphabetically:

FoodGrams of Protein
85% lean ground beef, 3 oz cooked22 g
Almonds, 1 oz6 g
Black beans, 1 cup cooked15 g
Broccoli, 1 cup2-6 g
Cheddar cheese, 1 oz7 g
Chicken breast, 3 oz cooked26 g
Chickpeas, 1 cup cooked14 g
Cottage cheese (4%), 1 cup28 g
Edamame, shelled, 1 cup17 g
Eggs, 1 large6 g
Egg whites, 1 cup25 g
Kidney beans, 1 cup cooked16 g
Lentils, 1 cup cooked18 g
Milk, 1 cup (2%, whole)8 g
Oats, 1 cup cooked6 g
Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons7 g
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked9 g
Salmon, Atlantic, 3 oz19 g
Shrimp, 3 oz18 g
Tempeh, 1 cup41 g
Tofu, firm, 1⁄2 cup10 g
Tuna, canned in water, 3 oz22 g
Turkey breast, roasted, 3 oz sliced25 g
Whey protein powder, 1 scoop20-30 g
Yogurt, Greek, nonfat plain, 1 cup23 g

This sample illustrates the diversity and density of protein content across food groups, with items like poultry, dairy, eggs, and legumes being particularly rich sources. Varying choices based on preferences, diet type, and budget can easily satisfy requirements.

Protein-Rich Recipes to Try

Implementing more high-protein foods and meals is simple with this delicious recipe sampler:


  • Scrambled eggs with turkey, peppers, onions, cheese
  • Greek yogurt parfait layered with nuts and berries
  • Protein-packed quinoa breakfast bowl with milk, fruit, almonds
  • Hearty breakfast burrito filled with egg whites, beans, avocado
  • High protein oatmeal made with cottage cheese and peanut butter
  • Nut butter overnight oats for grab-and-go convenience


  • Tofu veggie stir fry over brown rice
  • Burrito bowls with chicken, brown rice, black beans, veggies, salsa, cheese
  • Chopped chicken kale power salad with hemp seeds
  • Pasta with shrimp, mussels, clamstuna, or salmon
  • Vegetarian chili loaded with beans, veggies, tempeh crumbles

These selections highlight inventive ways to integrate proteins across any eating style or cuisine. Snack on handfuls of nuts, enjoy protein smoothies, fold into desserts like puddings, or always keep hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick additions.


In summary, protein is an essential macronutrient central to good health, physical function, disease resilience, strength building, weight management, and more. Intake should meet or exceed the RDA minimums based on individual age and gender, with active, elderly, and pregnant persons benefitting from additional consumption of up to 35% of total calories.

High-quality animal and plant-based proteins eaten consistently throughout the day from a wide range of whole food sources provide optimal amino acid diversity and nutritional benefits. Tracking grams using conversion lists, hitting 20-40 grams per meal, and creatively incorporating proteins maximizes intake. Pairing these macronutrients with healthy fats, anti-inflammatory spices, and fiber boosts satisfaction and absorption.

Adequately fueling your body’s tissue growth, repair, and protective systems through protein variety supports longevity, and quality of life, and reduces disease risk over the long haul. Sample tasty recipes that strategically blend proteins to meet your wellness needs and preferences.

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