We can get our energy requirements from either carbohydrate or fat, but sufficient protein intake is essential to our health.
The importance of protein is not limited to building muscle but also making essential hormones and cellular repair.
Put simply; proteins are building blocks for our entire body.
This article provides a list of eleven high protein foods, all of which are healthy and nutrient-dense.
1. Beef (85% Lean)
|Amount of Protein:||36.5g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||43.2% of calories|
Beef provides approximately 25.9g protein per 100g (3).
The protein density of beef very much depends on the fat content.
While there’s nothing to fear about animal fat, the protein content increases at the leaner end of the scale.
In addition to being high in protein, beef is incredibly rich in minerals and provides several other beneficial compounds for our health.
One of these is creatine, which may help to increase strength and endurance (4).
Overall, beef has a lot of nutritional value, and it’s one of the healthiest foods in the world.
2. Pork Chops (Boneless)
|Amount of Protein:||37g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||53.6% of calories|
A boneless pork chop supplies around 26.6g protein per 100g (5).
Bone-in pork chops are also great, but the protein content will naturally fall on a per-100g basis.
Despite many people believing fruit and vegetables are the defacto source of vitamins and minerals, meat is incredibly nutrient-dense too.
Pork is no exception, and it is particularly high in selenium, zinc, phosphorus and the B-vitamins.
Similar to beef, pork is a kind of red meat because it contains a large amount of myoglobin.
Myoglobin is a protein responsible for the red color of meat. It is present in large quantities in beef, lamb, and pork, and in minimal quantities in poultry.
|Amount of Protein:||18.9g per 3-egg serving|
|Protein Density:||35.2% of calories|
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
On a per-100g basis, they contain roughly 12.6g protein (6).
Not only are eggs a nutrient-dense protein, but they’re also one of the most nutritious foods high in fat.
Eggs contain almost every micronutrient, and they are an especially good source of vitamins A, D, and B-vitamins, as well as selenium and phosphorus.
Despite being a public health concern in the past due to their cholesterol content, the dietary guidelines no longer view dietary cholesterol as “a nutrient of concern” (7).
In fact, a systematic review of randomized controlled trials shows that even 12 eggs per week “has no adverse effect on cardiovascular risk factors” (8).
For extra tasty fried eggs, try frying them in some tallow – it makes them taste completely different (in a good way!)
4. Chicken Breast
|Amount of Protein:||32.5g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||84% of calories|
Chicken breast is boring, right?
A skin-on roast chicken or perhaps some oven-baked drumsticks? They’re much more exciting, but chicken breast wins the battle on protein density.
Per 100g, chicken breasts come in at 23.1g protein (9).
To make them taste a little more exciting, try the following;
- First, make four deep diagonal cuts along the length of the chicken breast
- Second, stuff these cuts with butter, salt, and mashed garlic
- After this, liberally sprinkle some cajun seasoning and black pepper on top
- Lastly, bake it!
The above is how I like to prepare chicken breasts when I have them, and they always taste great.
Other white meats such as turkey and other poultry are also reasonably high in protein.
5. Cottage Cheese
|Amount of Protein:||12.6g per 4oz serving|
|Protein Density:||45.3% of calories|
Note: Although whole (full-fat) dairy is healthier, low-fat cottage cheese beats it for protein-density at 69%.
Cottage cheese provides around 11.1g protein per 100g (10).
While not well-known in some parts of the world, cottage cheese is a high-protein and relatively low-fat dairy food.
It offers a decent amount of vitamins and minerals, being particularly high in calcium, selenium, and phosphorus.
As a result of its protein content, cottage cheese has a similar impact on satiety to eggs (11).
6. Wild Salmon
|Amount of Protein:||39g per half fillet serving|
|Protein Density:||55.7% of calories|
Wild salmon is rich in protein and provides 25.4g per 100g.
Alaskan salmon is one of the healthiest foods in the world, and it is a major supplier of omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, the fish contains substantial amounts of selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins.
Randomized trials demonstrate the impressive health properties of salmon.
|Amount of Protein:||12g per 100g serving|
|Protein Density:||69.6% of calories|
Quark is a kind of fermented fat-free soft cheese that has been increasing in popularity over recent times.
Per 100g, it provides 12g protein (17).
As you can see from the protein density score, quark is the most protein-dense of all dairy foods.
Coupled with this, it is also very low in carbohydrates and contains no fat at all. If you’re wanting to increase the amount of protein in your diet without upping calories too much, this makes it a perfect option.
As quark usually comes in a small tub, it is also an ideal option for a quick high-protein snack when you’re away from home.
8. Canned Tuna
|Amount of Protein:||35.5g per 5oz can|
|Protein Density:||87.3% of calories|
Firstly, all tuna products are good sources of protein.
A nice fatty tuna steak comes top in the taste department, but canned tuna wins on protein density.
Canned tuna provides approximately 25.5g protein per 100g (18).
Generally speaking, tuna is a fatty fish which offers a significant amount of omega-3 and fat-soluble vitamins. However, canned tuna is nutritionally inferior, containing almost zero fat.
On the positive side, this is why it is almost 90% protein in terms of energy.
Canned tuna has several other benefits too.
For one thing, it doesn’t require refrigeration. Also, it comes in a convenient ready-to-open can, meaning that you can eat it anywhere.
|Amount of Protein:||28.5g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||76.7% of calories|
Shrimps are an extremely protein-dense type of shellfish packed with nutrition.
Per 100g, they contain 20.3g protein despite only having 106 calories (19).
This profile makes them one of the highest protein foods in the world.
However, it isn’t just protein that makes shrimp a healthy choice. Just like other seafood options, we can find many important nutrients in shrimp.
Especially, vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus are all present in significant concentrations.
Top it with some garlic-mint butter for a delicious condiment.
|Amount of Protein:||17g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||86.7% of calories|
While not particularly common in the Western world, octopus offers impressive nutrient density.
It’s also one of the best sources of protein, providing 14.9g on a 100g basis (20).
Although 14.9g might not sound particularly high, it’s certainly impressive when you consider that 100g octopus is only 82 calories.
In addition, octopus offers substantial amounts of vitamin B12, as well as selenium, copper, phosphorus, and iron.
11. Lamb (Ground)
|Amount of Protein:||23g per 5oz serving|
|Protein Density:||23.3% of calories|
As the third red meat on this list, lamb is another food high in both protein and fat – and it’s very nutrient-dense too.
Ground lamb offers around 17g protein per 100g (21).
Lamb also sports an impressive nutrient profile. It is a particularly good source of selenium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
Lamb also contains the most conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) out of all animal foods (22).
CLA is a type of naturally-occurring trans fat, but unlike synthetic trans fats, it has beneficial impacts on our health.
Food-based sources of CLA may have positive benefits on body weight and lipid levels (23).
The common condiment for lamb is mint sauce or jelly, but if you want to avoid the sugar then try garlic-mint butter.
Making this is surprisingly easy; all you need to do is melt some butter and add a small amount of mashed garlic and mint to it.
The Health Benefits of High Protein Foods
In the present day, far too many people aren’t consuming enough protein.
This deficiency is particularly the case for the female population and the elderly.
Due to fearmongering over meat consumption, cases of iron deficiency anemia are rapidly rising around the world – particularly in women (24).
Unfortunately, this can have some negative side effects on our health.
For instance, the rate of muscle loss typically speeds up as we age, and lean muscle mass typically declines from 50% in our prime years to 25% of total weight in those in their 70s (25).
What happens when we lose muscle?
Well, we become weak and fragile, and thus more prone to accidents and losing our mobility.
Along with a solid resistance training program, eating sufficient protein is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our muscle, strength, and by association, our health.
To sum up, all of the foods in this article are nutritious and high in protein.
Feel free to mix and match them because a bit of variety is always good to keep things interesting.
The main point is to make sure there’s a significant source of protein at each meal, and add whichever carbohydrate or fat sources you want.