If you’ve been in the health game for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard that protein is key to any healthy diet.
Specifically, you probably know how important it is for building muscle. When you do strength-training exercises like weightlifting, you create tiny microtears in the muscles you’re working. The amino acids from your dietary protein help you rebuild those muscle fiber tears, resulting in bigger and stronger muscles.
And in even better news, getting enough protein also proves to be hugely important when your goal is to lose weight! When the name of the weight-loss game is to eat fewer calories, the calories you do eat should be both nutritious and filling. Protein actually requires more energy to metabolize than carbohydrates and fats, meaning your body uses more calories to process it. [*]
Protein also has a positive effect on your hormones: when your diet is high in protein, hormones that make you feel full will increase, and your hunger hormones decrease, helping you feel fuller for longer and stopping you from reaching for any snacks that could compromise your diet.
And of course, you want to lose fat, not muscle – which is why bodybuilders and dieters alike should make sure that they’re reaching for the protein!
So, since protein is such an important part of any diet, here are 8 excellent, diet-friendly protein sources to add to your grocery list so you can get that lean, strong body you’ve been working for.
Best Protein Sources
If you’re looking to add animal protein to your diet without packing on the calories, there are few options as good as chicken and lean turkey. These poultry items bring a ton of protein to your diet without a ton of calories, which is great for someone looking to build muscle without compromising on their body fat.
For the best weight loss options, look for skinless chicken breast and lean ground turkey. One skinless chicken breast will provide 26.1 grams of protein with only 124 calories, and one serving of lean ground turkey will give 21.2 grams of protein for only 169 calories!
Fish, as well as other seafood like shellfish, are also great and relatively lean sources of animal protein. In addition to a healthy serving of protein, fatty fish like salmon and tuna also add valuable omega-3s into your diet that have been shown to help protect against cardiovascular issues.
For the most calorie-friendly options, look for white fish like cod and tilapia.
On the vegetarian-friendly side, beans are some of the most valuable plant-based sources of protein. These legumes are filling, nutritious, and of course, pack a ton of protein. And as an added bonus, beans are also relatively cheap, which is good news for the budget-conscious dieter. Add some canned black beans or kidney beans to your meals to bulk them up and give you a power-packed protein serving.
Peas are also part of the legume family, and as such have a great amount of plant-based protein. One serving of canned chickpeas will give you 10-15 grams of protein, as well as a ton of dietary fiber which can help with keeping you full and promoting a healthy body weight!
Other protein-packed peas include green peas and split peas. These legumes are so valuable for their protein that they’re even one of the most popular source of protein for vegetarian-friendly protein supplements!
Nuts are a health-conscious snack lover’s best friend. They’re filling and perfect for people who love their savory snacks, and as a bonus, they’re also great sources of healthy fat. Instead of going for the chips when you’re craving something salty, try unsalted almonds, pistachios, or walnuts instead.
It’s important to be conscious of serving sizes, though: since nuts are a great source of healthy fat, they’ll also come at a high caloric price if you’re not paying attention to how many you eat.
They’re a staple on many peoples’ breakfast tables, and for good reason: for their small size, eggs pack a ton of nutrition. In addition to the protein, egg yolks are also loaded with B Vitamins and Vitamin D, both of which might play roles in maintaining healthy body weights.
If you want to cut down the calories even more, you can stick with egg whites, but be aware that that will also mean slightly less protein, as well as way less of the other nutrients mentioned, since the yolk is the most nutritious part of the egg.
7. Non-Dairy Yogurt
Non-dairy yogurts are typically made from almonds, cashews, and even coconut, and come with a decent amount of protein. Sticking to non-dairy is best due to the added hormones found in commercial dairy that can wreak havoc on your own hormones!
Yogurt is also a great source for probiotics, which some studies suggest can play a role in helping to maintain a healthy body weight. [*]
If you want to incorporate this into your diet, try adding unsweetened versions to your smoothies or eating them with your daily fruit serving.
Quinoa has become a grocery list staple for many people in the past couple of years because they serve as a more nutritious replacement for other carbs like rice and pasta. A cup of this whole grain will give you about eight grams of protein – and even better, the protein from quinoa is complete, unlike other plant-based protein sources. [*] In other words, you don’t have to pair this with another plant-based protein source in order to reap its full benefits!
9. Red meat
Red meat, like beef and pork, are some of the most popular options for dietary protein. One serving of steak will give you nearly half of your recommended protein serving for the day!
You’ll want to watch the serving size for your red meats, though, since it’s believed that having red meat too frequently can increase your risk for heart disease due to the high levels of saturated fat.
Here’s the bottom line: for any weight or body composition goals you might have, getting enough protein in your diet is key. Make sure that every meal has a healthy serving of protein so you can get the most out of the food you eat!