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17 Protein-Rich Foods to Easily Add to Meals

Have you ever experienced that all-too-familiar mid-afternoon slump? You feel hungry, on the verge of dozing off, or just crave a cup of coffee with something sweet. If this sounds like you, it could be a sign that your diet lacks essential nutrients, particularly amino acids and proteins. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should derive 10% to 35% of their daily caloric intake from protein. Yet, many of us fall short of this target. 

Research has shown that adequate protein consumption positively impacts longevity and metabolic health. Additionally, incorporating protein into your diet can help reduce portion sizes and play crucial roles in muscle building, hormone regulation, and hunger suppression.

Therefore, if your goals include maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the day, promoting sustainable weight loss, and enhancing overall well-being, it’s essential to consume protein-rich foods. But where should you begin? Here is a list of 18 top protein sources that can easily be integrated into your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

1. Eggs

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It’s not surprising that we like eggs in the morning. While egg whites are protein powerhouses, the egg yolk contains all nine essential amino acids, making eggs a complete meal. 

They are also incredibly versatile, budget-friendly, and easy to prepare. A large egg offers approximately 6 grams of protein, along with energy, vitamins, and essential minerals like vitamin B12, riboflavin, and selenium. These nutrients are crucial for various bodily functions, including maintaining muscle mass, supporting energy levels, and promoting overall health.

Prepare them scrambled, poached, boiled, or in an omelet for a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast (or any meal of the day) that can keep you feeling full and energized throughout the morning. 

2. Unsweetened Greek Yogurt

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Today, Greek yogurt is considered one of the most health-beneficial products, and no wonder why. Greek yogurt undergoes a process called straining, where the whey is removed; this makes it thicker and contains more protein than regular yogurt. 

A 7-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt contains around 17 grams of protein, so it is a great snack after working out or for breakfast. Serve fresh fruits or granola on top, and add honey to give it a finishing touch.

3. Chicken Breast

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Chicken breast is among the best lean meat choices if you are looking to increase your protein intake. Chicken can be prepared in many ways, but when it is boiled and the skin is removed, a 3-ounce serving contains about 26.7 grams of protein and hardly any fat.

It makes chicken breast an ideal option for people who want to gain muscle mass or aim for weight loss. Its lack of a strong, sharp taste makes it almost universal regarding combinations. It can be prepared on the grill, baked, poached, or stir-fried, making the choice exciting! 

Additionally, chicken breast is a good source of essential nutrients such as selenium, phosphorus, and various B vitamins, contributing to overall health and well-being.

4. Fish

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Fish is an exceptional source of high-quality protein, offering numerous health benefits beyond its protein content. Rich in essential amino acids, fish supports muscle repair and growth, making it a valuable addition to any diet. While all fish are rich in protein, protein content varies by type; for instance, a half-salmon fillet (124g) provides 30.5 grams of protein. 

But that’s not all, these are also full of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid needed for brain and heart health and helping with inflammation. To increase your fish intake, try baked salmon with lemon and herbs, canned tuna used in salads or sandwiches, or even a sardine dinner platter.

5. Beans and Lentils

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Beans and lentils are powerhouses of plant-based protein, so they are excellent choices for vegetarian and vegan diets. They are cost-effective, high in fiber, and rich in protein. A 100 g serving of cooked lentils offers up to 9 grams of protein, while 100g of cooked black beans provides around 8.86g.

Incorporate a variety of beans and lentils into your diet to diversify your meals. Leftovers can be added to soups and stews, used as salad toppings, or blended into tasty dips and spreads.

6. Tofu and Tempeh

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Tofu and tempeh are popular plant-based alternatives to meat that are high in protein and low in fat. Tofu is made from soybeans, while tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, making them both complete protein sources. 

These versatile ingredients can be used in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries to sandwiches, offering a range of textures and flavors. Specifically, the approximate protein content per serving is 3 oz of tofu = 8g and 3 oz of tempeh = 16g.

7. Nuts and Nut Butter

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Nuts and nut butter are easy and delicious sources of protein, healthy fats, and various essential nutrients. Whether you prefer almonds, cashews, or pistachios, incorporating nuts into your diet can provide a satisfying and nutrient-dense snack. 

A handful of nuts or a couple of tablespoons of nut butter can provide a protein boost. For example, a serving of almonds (about 1 ounce or 28 grams) contains approximately 6 grams of protein, while two tablespoons of peanut butter generally offer around 8 grams of protein.

Nut butter can be added to smoothies, yogurt parfaits, or whole wheat bread, making it an additional source of protein in a morning meal or snack.

8. Lean Beef

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If you are a meat lover, lean cuts of beef are an excellent way to get high-quality protein. A 100 gm serving of lean beef provides 26 grams of protein and a significant amount of iron, essential for oxygen transport and energy. You can prepare lean meat by grilling, roasting, or stir-frying. 

Incorporate it into casseroles, use it as a topping for baked dishes, extend it for sandwiches, or substitute it for ground beef in any recipe that would benefit from added flavor and substance. This versatile ingredient can help you create delicious and satisfying meals.

9. Turkey Breast

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Turkey breast is an excellent source of protein, lighter than beef, and perfect for a variety of dishes. A 3-ounce serving of cooked turkey breast provides approximately 26 grams of protein with no fat, making it an ideal choice for those seeking lean protein options. 

Similar to chicken breast, turkey breast is lean and has a mild, versatile flavor that works well in many recipes. Enjoy it cooked with vegetables, sliced in sandwiches, or minced into lean turkey burgers as a healthy alternative to traditional beef burgers.

10. Seeds

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Do not underestimate the power of small things, such as seeds! Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and essential healthy fatty acids. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds provide up to 4 grams of protein. In contrast, the same serving of hemp seeds offers about five grams. Pumpkin seeds are another fantastic protein source, with a one-ounce portion containing roughly five grams of protein.

To maximize their benefits, store these seeds in the refrigerator and sprinkle them on smoothies, soups, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, and salads. You can even blend them into muffins or loaf bread for an added nutritional boost.

11. Cheese

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Cheese lovers, rejoice! Cheese and cottage cheese are other rich sources of protein and calcium. A single cup of cottage cheese provides 11 grams of protein, while 1 ounce of parmesan cheese offers about 9.1 grams of protein. 

You can enjoy cottage cheese on its own, mix it with other ingredients, or blend it into a protein-rich smoothie, making it an ideal breakfast option. Ricotta cheese is versatile in cooking, perfect for pasta dishes like lasagna or spooned over fruit for a sweet and nutritious protein boost.

12. Quinoa

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Quinoa, a pseudo-cereal from South America, stands out for its unique nutritional profile. It contains all the essential amino acids, including lysine, methionine, and tryptophan, making it the only plant-based complete protein. 

For example, one cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein and includes all nine essential amino acids. This versatile grain can easily replace rice or couscous in various recipes. You can enjoy quinoa bowls with roasted vegetables and your choice of grilled protein, such as chicken or quality tofu, or incorporate it into salad bowls for a nutritious meal.

13. Edamame

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Edamame, the green soybeans harvested before ripening and still enclosed in their pods, are popular in Asian cuisine, especially Japanese and Chinese dishes. Often enjoyed in a soup, appetizer, or snack, edamame is also an excellent protein source for bodybuilding and tissue repair. 

A single cup of boiled or steamed edamame provides 17 grams of protein. Enjoy them traditionally, steamed or boiled, or try roasting them with your favorite seasonings for a delicious, protein-packed snack.’

14. Protein Powders

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Protein powders are concentrated protein sources, commonly derived from whey, soy, or pea protein, among other options. While not a muscle-building tool on their own, they can significantly enhance your training and nutrition program. 

Protein powders provide a convenient way to increase your protein intake, particularly post-workout when your muscles are primed to metabolize protein for repair and growth. These powders can be easily mixed into shakes or smoothies, stirred into yogurt or cottage cheese, or incorporated into protein-rich biscuits or pancakes.

15. Spirulina

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Spirulina is a non-technoïd plant that looks like blue algae and is rich in nutritional value. It contains all essential sweet amino acids and provides approximately 8 grams of protein per 1 tablespoon.

 Spirulina is not the most typical or well-known type of protein but this is an interesting way to increase your protein and nutrient intake. Try adding it to smoothies, using it on your greens, or as a protein boost in homemade energy bars.

16. Collagen Peptides

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Collagen peptides are small fragments of collagen that have a lot of positive effects on the human body 16. As one of the best-selling and famous nutritional supplement ingredients in the world, Collagen is a protein that plays a significant role as a structural component within the skin, bones, and connective tissues. Some research shows that collagen peptides enhance skin condition, providing elasticity and diminishing wrinkles.

Also, collagen peptides could help improve gut health by forming a healthy gut lining. These powdered supplements can be mixed with water or preferred beverages like coffee, smoothies, or even soups for protein and potential added health benefits.

17. Whey Protein Isolate

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Whey protein isolate is one of the most refined forms of whey protein, typically containing minimal or no lactose or fat. This makes it a popular choice among athletes and those looking for a quick, sweet protein boost to fuel their muscles after intense activity.  

Available in powdered form or as a liquid formula, whey protein isolate is often consumed as a protein shake with water or milk. It can also be incorporated into various recipes, such as yogurt parfaits and oatmeal, or in baking protein-rich muffins or pancakes.

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