Choosing Healthy Protein - (2023)

healthy eating

When it comes to making protein choices in your diet, quality is just as important as quantity. Here’s all you need to know to keep your body and mind healthy.

Choosing Healthy Protein - (1)

What is protein?

Protein in your diet provides energy and supports your mood and cognitive function. It’s a vital nutrient required for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues, cells, and organs throughout the body. While it’s in many of the foods that we eat every day, for something so common it’s often a misunderstood part of our diets.

When you eat protein, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy. The amino acid tryptophan influences mood by producing serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve overall cognitive function.

Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.

The health benefits of protein

Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going. While too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, diabetes, and some other conditions, eating the right amount of high-quality protein:

  • Keeps your immune system functioning properly, maintains heart health and your respiratory system, and speeds recovery after exercise.
  • Is vital to the growth and development of children and for maintaining health in your senior years.
  • Can help reduce your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Can help you think clearly and may improve recall.
  • Can improve your mood and boost your resistance to stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • May help you maintain a healthy weight by curbing appetite, making you feel full longer, and fueling you with extra energy for exercising.

As well as being imperative to feeling healthy and energetic, protein is also important to the way you look. Eating high-quality protein can help you maintain healthy skin, nails, and hair, build muscle, and maintain lean body mass while dieting.

While most people eating a Western diet get a sufficient quantity of protein each day, many of us are not getting the quality of protein we need.

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High-quality vs. low-quality protein

Distinguishing between industrially raised meat and organic, grass-fed meat is only part of separating low- and high-quality sources of protein.

  • While some processed or lunch meats, for example, can be a good source of protein, many are loaded with salt, which can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems.
  • Processed meats have also been linked with an increased risk of cancer, likely due to the substances used in the processing of the meat.

The key to ensuring you eat sufficient high-quality protein is to include different types in your diet, rather than relying on just red or processed meat.

How much high-quality protein do you need?

Adults should eat at least 0.8g of protein per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight per day. That means a 180lb man should eat at least 65 grams of high-quality protein per day. A higher intake may help to lower your risk for obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

  • Nursing women need about 20 grams more of high-quality protein a day than they did before pregnancy to support milk production.
  • Older adults should aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for each kilogram of weight (think 0.5g of protein per lb. of body weight if that's easier).
  • Try to divide your protein intake equally among meals.

Source: Environmental Nutrition

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Good sources of high-quality protein

Fish. Most seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, sablefish (black cod), and herring are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week.

Poultry. Removing the skin from chicken and turkey can substantially reduce the saturated fat. In the U.S., non-organic poultry may also contain antibiotics and been raised on GMO feed grown with pesticides, so opt for organic and free-range if possible.

Dairy products. Products such as skim milk, cheese, and yoghurt offer lots of healthy protein. Beware of added sugar in low-fat yoghurts and flavored milk, though, and skip processed cheese that often contains non-dairy ingredients.

Beans. Beans and peas are packed full of both protein and fiber. Add them to salads, soups and stews to boost your protein intake.

Nuts and seeds. As well as being rich sources of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in fiber and “good” fats. Add to salads or keep handy for snacks.

Tofu and soy products. Non-GMO tofu and soy are excellent red meat alternatives, high in protein and low in fat. Try a “meatless Monday,” plant-based protein sources are often less expensive than meat so it can be as good for your wallet as it is for your health.

Good sources of protein
Nutrition values are approximate only; significant variations occur according to brand, cut of meat, cooking method, etc.
FoodGrams of protein
Canned tuna – 3 ounces20
Salmon – 3 ounces


Turkey breast – 3 ounces


Chicken breast – 3 ounces


Skirt steak – 3 ounces


Ground beef (70% lean) – 3 ounces


Kidney beans – 1/3 cup


Black beans – 1/3 cup


Non-fat milk – 1/2 cup


Soy milk – 1/2 cup


Eggs – 1 large


Mozzarella cheese – 3 ounces


Cheddar – 3 ounces


Low-fat cottage cheese – 1/2 cup


Peanut butter – 2 tbsp.


Almonds – 1/4 cup (24 nuts)


Walnuts – 1/4 cup (14 halves)


Veggie burger – 1 patty


Tofu – 1/2 cup


Yogurt, plain – 1 cup


Whey protein powder – 1/3 cup


Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference


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Tips to increase your protein intake

To include more high-quality protein in your diet, try replacing processed carbs with high-quality protein. It can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke, and you'll also feel full longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.

  • Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates you consume—from foods such as pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies and chips—and replace them with fish, beans, nuts, seeds, peas, chicken, low-fat dairy, and soy and tofu products.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace a baked dessert with Greek yogurt, or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.

Not a seafood fan? Make fish more palatable

If you're not a fan of seafood, but want to include more in your diet, there are ways to make fish more palatable.

  • Always buy fresh fish. Some say tilapia, cod, or salmon have the least “fishy” taste.
  • Disguise the taste by adding a flavorful sauce.
  • Marinate fish with Creole or Cajun seasoning.
  • Add shell fish or white fish, such as cod or tilapia, to a curry.
  • Combine grilled fish with fresh salsa or your favorite chutney
  • Mix canned salmon or tuna with low-fat mayonnaise and chopped onion for a tasty sandwich filling.

To avoid problems when increasing protein intake

  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds, to reduce your daily sodium intake.
  • When shopping for canned beans, choose the low sodium versions.
  • Adding more protein to your diet can increase urine output, so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Increasing protein can also cause calcium loss so make sure to get plenty of calcium (1,000 to 1,200 mg per day).

Protein powders, shakes, and bars

In most cases, consuming the right balance of whole foods each day will provide you with all the nutrients you need, negating the need for protein supplements. However, you may benefit from supplementing your diet if you're:

  • A teenager who is growing and exercising a lot.
  • An adult switching to a vegan diet—eliminating meat, chicken, fish, and even dairy and eggs from your diet.
  • An older adult with a small appetite who finds it difficult to eat your protein requirements in whole foods.
  • Starting or increasing a regular workout program, trying to add muscle, recovering from a sports injury, or find you feel weak while exercising or lifting weights.

Using protein supplements

Protein supplements come in various forms including powders you mix with milk or water, pre-mixed, ready-to-drink shakes, or in bars. The most common types of protein used are whey, casein, and soy. Whey and casein are milk-based proteins, while soy is the better choice for vegans or anyone with a dairy allergy.

Safety concerns. Protein supplements may not be safe for older people with renal disease or people who have recently undergone surgery on the digestive system. Some ingredients may even interact with prescription medication, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before using.

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and make sure you're getting enough calcium in your diet.

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Look out for extra ingredients. Many protein bars are packed with carbs and added sugar.

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A.

    • References

      U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, 9th Edition.

      Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2020). Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

      Agricultural Research Service. (2019). FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

      Smith, J. D., Hou, T., Ludwig, D. S., Rimm, E. B., Willett, W., Hu, F. B., & Mozaffarian, D. (2015). Changes in intake of protein foods, carbohydrate amount and quality, and long-term weight change: Results from 3 prospective cohorts. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), 1216–1224.

      Li, S. S., Kendall, C. W. C., Souza, R. J. de, Jayalath, V. H., Cozma, A. I., Ha, V., Mirrahimi, A., Chiavaroli, L., Augustin, L. S. A., Mejia, S. B., Leiter, L. A., Beyene, J., Jenkins, D. J. A., & Sievenpiper, J. L. (2014). Dietary pulses, satiety and food intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials. Obesity, 22(8), 1773–1780.

      Mozaffarian, D., Hao, T., Rimm, E. B., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2011). Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. New England Journal of Medicine, 364(25), 2392–2404.

      Halton, T. L., Liu, S., Manson, J. E., & Hu, F. B. (2008). Low-carbohydrate-diet score and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(2), 339–346.

      (Video) Go PRO with these Healthy Protein Choices | Registered Dietitians Share Healthy Eating Choices

      Bauer, J., Biolo, G., Cederholm, T., Cesari, M., Cruz-Jentoft, A. J., Morley, J. E., Phillips, S., Sieber, C., Stehle, P., Teta, D., Visvanathan, R., Volpi, E., & Boirie, Y. (2013). Evidence-Based Recommendations for Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People: A Position Paper From the PROT-AGE Study Group. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 14(8), 542–559.

    Last updated: October 13, 2022


    What is considered a high quality protein? ›

    Animal Protein. Proteins from animal sources (i.e. eggs, milk, meat, fish and poultry) provide the highest quality rating of food sources. This is primarily due to the 'completeness' of proteins from these sources.

    What are the top 10 high-protein foods? ›

    Top 10 Protein Foods
    • Skinless, white-meat poultry.
    • Lean beef (including tenderloin, sirloin, eye of round) ADVERTISEMENT.
    • Skim or low-fat milk.
    • Skim or low-fat yogurt.
    • Fat-free or low-fat cheese.
    • Eggs.
    • Lean pork (tenderloin)
    • Beans.
    6 Mar 2022

    What food is good for old age? ›

    What to eat
    • fruit and vegetables.
    • potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy foods.
    • dairy and alternatives.
    • beans, pulses, fish, eggs and other proteins.
    • oils and spreads.

    What is the cleanest form of protein? ›

    The cleanest protein powder you can buy is grass-fed whey protein. It is minimally processed and can be found without any additives.

    Which fruit has most protein? ›

    Guava. Guava is one of the most protein-rich fruits around. You'll get a whopping 4.2 grams of the stuff in every cup. This tropical fruit is also high in vitamin C and fiber.

    Is peanut butter a high-quality protein? ›

    Peanut butter is rich in heart-healthy fats and is a good source of protein, which can be helpful for vegetarians looking to include more protein in their diets. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains up to 8 grams of protein and 2 to 3 grams of fiber.

    Are eggs considered a high-quality protein? ›

    A protein is considered “high-quality” when it contains all nine essential amino acids that can be easily absorbed and used by the body. Eggs are a great example of a high-quality protein as all nine of these essential amino acids are found in eggs in a pattern that closely matches the body's needs.

    Is peanut butter good for you? ›

    Peanut butter is loaded with so many good, health-promoting nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, iron, selenium and vitamin B6. Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts and nut butter, including peanut butter, are less likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    What protein can I eat for breakfast? ›

    High-Protein Breakfast Foods
    • Eggs. Eggs are a no-brainer breakfast protein, but it's important to remember that there are so many different ways to use them. ...
    • Greek Yogurt. ...
    • Turkey Sausages. ...
    • Cottage Cheese. ...
    • Smoked Salmon. ...
    • Tofu. ...
    • Black Beans. ...
    • Protein Powder.
    9 Apr 2020

    How much protein does an 80 year old need? ›

    Protein Requirements for Elderly Adults. Experts in the field of protein and aging recommend a protein intake between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg/day or higher for elderly adults [3,8,15].

    What should elderly avoid eating? ›

    Foods Seniors Should Avoid In Summary

    Raw eggs, fish, undercooked meat, unpasteurized dairy, and juice can all increase the risk for foodborne illness in the elderly. Sushi and deli meats may also raise concerns about food safety and also for higher sodium levels.

    How often should seniors bathe? ›

    At a minimum, bathing once or twice a week helps most seniors avoid skin breakdown and infections. Using warm washcloths to wipe armpits, groin, genitals, feet, and any skin folds also helps minimize body odor in between full baths. However, some dementia caregivers say it's actually easier to bathe every day.

    How far should a 80 year old walk every day? ›

    Generally, older adults in good physical shape walk somewhere between 2,000 and 9,000 steps daily. This translates into walking distances of 1 and 4-1/2 miles respectively.

    What is a high protein snack? ›

    Here are 30 high protein snacks that are healthy and portable, so you can enjoy them even when you're on the go.
    • Jerky. Jerky is meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and dried. ...
    • Trail mix. ...
    • Turkey roll-ups. ...
    • Greek yogurt parfait. ...
    • Veggies and yogurt dip. ...
    • Tuna. ...
    • Hard-boiled eggs. ...
    • Peanut butter celery sticks.

    Are shrimp healthy to eat? ›

    Shrimp is a great food to include in your diet. It's not only high in protein but also low in calories, carbs, and fat. Three ounces (85 grams) of shrimp contain 12 grams of protein and only 60 calories ( 11 ). Shrimp is rich in selenium, choline, and vitamin B12.

    Is banana full of protein? ›

    Like most fruits, bananas are not a source of fat or protein, just carbohydrates. When compared with other fruits, like berries, bananas are higher in energy (calories), which gives them a bad reputation of not being “good” for weight loss.

    Is avocado high in protein? ›

    A 50g serving of fresh avocado contains 1 gram of protein and a whole 5-oz. fresh avocado (3 servings) contains 3 grams of protein. Though fresh avocados do not contain a significant amount of protein, they can be a creamy and delicious addition to a variety of meal plans and menus.

    Are blueberries high in protein? ›

    Nutrients per Serving

    A half-cup serving of blueberries contains: Calories: 42. Protein: 1 gram.

    What nuts are complete proteins? ›

    Pistachios qualify as a source of protein and the Food and Drug Administration defines a complete protein as a food that contains “all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts.”1 Adequate levels of all nine essential amino acids are shown to be present in roasted pistachios, based on a Protein Digestibility ...

    Do oats have complete protein? ›

    Oats contain all nine essential amino acids necessary to make up a complete protein. However, oats don't have quite enough of the amino acid lysine to qualify as a complete protein.

    Is canned tuna a good source of protein? ›

    Yes, canned tuna is a healthful food rich in protein and contains many vitamins and minerals such as B-Complex vitamins, Vitamins A and D as well as iron, selenium and phosphorus. Tuna also contains healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA.

    Are 2 eggs a day enough protein? ›

    It is best to limit your intake to one whole egg a day, but if you are on a high protein diet, you can also consume up to three.

    Is Greek yogurt a complete protein? ›

    The casein in Greek yogurt is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids: methionine, lysine, isoleucine, histidine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine and leucine.

    How much protein does a 75 year old woman? ›

    The current recommended dietary allowance for women older than 70 years is 0.36 grams for each pound of body weight or 46 grams of protein for a 130-pound woman. This amount is the same for all women 19 and older.

    Is Honey Good For health? ›

    Studies suggest that honey might offer antidepressant, anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety benefits. In some studies, honey has been shown to help prevent memory disorders. Wound care. Topical use of medical-grade honey has been shown to promote wound healing, particularly in burns.

    Why is jelly good for you? ›

    Jelly facilitates digestion and intestinal transit due to its high water content. Gelatin increases peristaltic movements in the intestinal muscles, and this helps to improve the digestive process and absorption of vitamins and minerals as well as excretion. Proteins are an essential part of wound healing.

    Are potatoes high in protein? ›

    Protein. Potatoes are low in protein, ranging from 1–2% when fresh and 8–9% by dry weight ( 1 , 11 ). In fact, compared with other common food crops — such as wheat, rice, and corn — potatoes have the lowest amount of protein.

    What lunch foods are high in protein? ›

    Pack Your Lunch With Protein
    • Power Lunch. 1/17. Want to beat the afternoon slump? ...
    • Turkey-and-Apple Sandwich. 2/17. ...
    • Edamame Salad. 3/17. ...
    • Nuts, Cheese, and Crackers. 4/17. ...
    • Yogurt, Fruit, and Veggie Smoothie. 5/17. ...
    • Beef Tacos. 6/17. ...
    • Quinoa Bowl. 7/17. ...
    • Greek Yogurt Parfait. 8/17.

    Is broccoli full of protein? ›

    Broccoli is relatively high in protein, which makes up 29% of its dry weight, compared to most vegetables. However, because of its high water content, 1 cup (91 grams) of broccoli only provides 3 grams of protein. Broccoli is higher in protein than most vegetables.

    What cheese is highest in protein? ›

    Parmesan - 35.1 g

    Keep in mind, although it's the highest protein cheese, you wouldn't eat as much parmesan as you would say Edam or Halloumi. Per 100g, Parmesan has 35.1g of protein, 0.0g of carbs and 28.8g of fat.

    What bread is highest in protein? ›

    Rye Bread

    Rye bread is considered healthier than most other breads due to its high-protein levels (9 grams per 100 gram portion, as per the USDA data) and good amounts of dietary fibre present in it.

    What cereal has most protein? ›

    7 High-Protein Cereal to Keep You Going (And Going)
    • Kashi GO Crunch! Honey Almond Flax. ...
    • Cascadian Farm Purely O's. ...
    • Quaker Protein Instant Oatmeal. ...
    • Kellogg's Special K Protein. ...
    • Nature's Path Original Chia, Buckwheat & Hemp. ...
    • Barbara's Multigrain Squarefuls. ...
    • The Cereal School.
    7 Aug 2019

    What kind of protein is best for seniors? ›

    With lower fat and therefore lower calorie content, lean meat is an excellent source of protein for seniors. The USDA defines lean as having less than 10 grams of fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat per 3.5 ounce (100-gram) serving.

    How many eggs should seniors eat a day? ›

    The American Heart Association recommends up to one egg a day for most people, fewer for people with high blood cholesterol, especially those with diabetes or who are at risk for heart failure, and up to two eggs a day for older people with normal cholesterol levels and who eat a healthy diet.

    Should seniors take protein powder? ›

    Protein shakes or supplements can be a powerful part of the elderly diet that helps fill any nutritional gaps. Research suggests that seniors are not as able to use protein as younger people. In other words, senior bodies may require more protein to meet their needs.

    What food is full of protein? ›

    Protein foods
    • lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo.
    • poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds.
    • fish and seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams.
    • eggs.
    • dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese)

    What is a high protein snack? ›

    Here are 30 high protein snacks that are healthy and portable, so you can enjoy them even when you're on the go.
    • Jerky. Jerky is meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and dried. ...
    • Trail mix. ...
    • Turkey roll-ups. ...
    • Greek yogurt parfait. ...
    • Veggies and yogurt dip. ...
    • Tuna. ...
    • Hard-boiled eggs. ...
    • Peanut butter celery sticks.

    What protein powder should I watch out for? ›

    In my opinion, here's what you DON'T want in a protein powder:
    • Casein and WPC. These are also known as caseinate and whey protein concentrate. ...
    • Gluten. ...
    • Dextrin and Glucose. ...
    • Artificial sweeteners. ...
    • Skim milk powders/milk solids. ...
    • Soy protein. ...
    • Vegetable oils and fats. ...
    • Thickeners and gums.

    What is a toxic protein? ›

    Definition. Protein toxicity occurs when protein metabolic wastes build up in the body. During protein metabolism, nitrogenous wastes such as urea, uric acid, ammonia, and creatinine are produced. These compounds are not utilized by the human body and are usually excreted by the kidney.

    Is 2 eggs a day enough protein? ›

    No, 2 eggs do not contain enough protein for optimal muscle protein synthesis following a workout. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the optimal amount of high-quality protein for muscle protein synthesis post-workout is 20-30 grams [1].

    What protein can I eat for breakfast? ›

    High-Protein Breakfast Foods
    • Eggs. Eggs are a no-brainer breakfast protein, but it's important to remember that there are so many different ways to use them. ...
    • Greek Yogurt. ...
    • Turkey Sausages. ...
    • Cottage Cheese. ...
    • Smoked Salmon. ...
    • Tofu. ...
    • Black Beans. ...
    • Protein Powder.
    9 Apr 2020

    What are the 5 foods that burn belly fat? ›

    7 Foods that Burn Belly Fat
    • Beans. “Becoming a bean lover can help you lose weight and whittle your middle,” registered dietitian Cynthia Sass told Today. ...
    • Swap your beef for salmon. ...
    • Yogurt. ...
    • Red bell peppers. ...
    • Broccoli. ...
    • Edamame. ...
    • Diluted vinegar.

    Is peanut butter high in protein? ›

    It's a good protein source

    A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of peanut butter contains ( 4 ): Carbohydrates: 22 grams of carbs (14% of calories), 5 of which are fiber. Protein: 22.5 grams of protein (14% of calories), which is quite a lot compared with most other plant foods.

    What is the cleanest safest protein powder? ›

    So whether you are a bodybuilder or just trying to eat healthier, these powders will help you reach your goals!
    • Elm & Rye Protein Supplement.
    • Peak Performance Chocolate Protein.
    • Sunwarrior Classic Protein Powder.
    • Vega Sport Premium Protein Powder.
    • Perfect Keto Collagen Peptides Protein Powder.
    11 Oct 2022

    What is the symptoms of too much protein? ›

    Symptoms associated with too much protein include: intestinal discomfort and indigestion. dehydration. unexplained exhaustion.


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