Top 10 high-protein foods

Are you getting enough protein? As one of the major nutrients, protein plays several important roles, including helping you lose weight and preserve muscle.1 In this guide, we’ll share the 10 foods highest in protein and provide tips for including them in your own diet.

What is protein, and how much do you need?

Protein is made up of small building blocks called amino acids. Because much of your body is composed of protein, you need to eat enough in your diet to keep your muscles, skin, and internal organs healthy, among other reasons.2

Learn more in our complete protein guide. Feel free to use our target protein ranges chart to see how much protein you may need per day.3

The top 10 high-protein foods

Although protein is found in a wide variety of animal and plant foods, the amounts can differ quite a bit. Here are the top 10 high-protein foods to choose from, along with a few ways to include them in your diet.4

1. Meat

Meat is tasty, filling, and an excellent protein source. Contrary to criticisms that have been made about red meat (beef, pork and lamb), eating it on a regular basis may potentially be beneficial for weight loss, blood sugar control, and insulin resistance.5

Additionally, red meat intake has been shown to increase muscle mass and strength when combined with resistance training.6 And frequent poultry (“white meat”) consumption may also be helpful for losing weight.7

Of course, the rest of the diet matters as well, so it can often be a challenge to attribute a benefit to one particular food.

Here are the amounts of protein per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked meat (about the size of a deck of cards), unless otherwise noted:

  • Chicken breast: 28 grams
  • Lean steak (filet mignon, top sirloin): 26 grams
  • Lean pork (tenderloin, ham): 26 grams
  • Lamb shank: 26 grams
  • Chicken thigh: 22 grams
  • Lamb chops: 22 grams (serving size: 3 small lamb chops)
  • Fatty steak (ribeye): 20-22 grams
  • Bacon: 20 grams (serving size: 5 slices, or 60 grams)
  • Fatty pork (ribs, shoulder, butt): 18-20 grams
  • Sausage: 16-20 grams

Cooking an extra portion of grilled or roasted meat for dinner and using the leftovers for lunch the next day can save time while helping you meet your protein requirements.

Popular Diet Doctor meat-based recipes:

2. Eggs

It’s tough to find a food more versatile than the egg. Whether used in omelets, quiches, baked goods, or served alone, eggs provide high-quality protein at an affordable price.8 And whole eggs seem to have the edge over egg whites for building muscle.9

Three large eggs provide about 19 grams of protein.

Although often viewed as a breakfast staple, eggs are a smart protein choice anytime. Keeping a supply of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge sets you up with a great grab-and-go protein option for busy days.

Popular Diet Doctor egg-based recipes:

3. Soy

Soy is the only plant protein source that provides adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own.10 In some studies, soy protein has been found to provide appetite control and weight loss benefits comparable to meat.11 And like eggs, soy is versatile and economical.

We realize that soy is a controversial topic. In our food policy on soy, we discuss why the benefits may outweigh the risks of soy, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Several protein-rich soy products are low enough in net carbs to fit low-carb or keto lifestyles:

  • Canned black soybeans: 20 grams of protein and 2 grams of net carbs per cup (200 grams)
  • Tempeh: 18-20 grams of protein and 4-7 grams of net carbs per 2/3 cup (100 grams)
  • Nattō: 18-20 grams of protein and 9-12 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup (100 grams)
  • Edamame beans: 17 grams of protein and 5-7 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (155 grams)
  • Tofu (extra firm): 18-20 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (250 grams)

Buy a bag of frozen edamame beans and sprinkle some shelled ones into soups and salads, or steam them as a vegetable side dish. Fried firm tofu can make a great, crispy, high-protein alternative to salad croutons.

Popular Diet Doctor soy-based recipes:

4. Cheese

Cheese is filling, high in protein, and one of the most popular low-carb dairy choices. There’s also evidence that eating high-protein dairy products like cheese may potentially help you lose fat and gain muscle.12

Here is a list of the amount of protein in 100 grams (about 3/4 cup or the size of your fist) of various cheeses:

  • Parmesan: 35 grams
  • Hard and semi-hard cheese (Swiss, cheddar, provolone, halloumi): 24-27 grams
  • Semi-soft cheese (Mozzarella, havarti, blue): 22-28 grams
  • Soft ripened cheese (Brie, Camembert, goat): 20-21 grams
  • Feta: 14 grams

Sprinkle shredded cheese over your salad, have a cheese plate for lunch, or enjoy a delicious wedge of soft cheese as a savory dessert.

Popular Diet Doctor cheese-based recipes:

5. Fish

Like meat and poultry, fish is an excellent source of protein. In addition, oily or fatty types are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, which may have some beneficial effects on health.13

What if you don’t like some types of fish, especially those that taste too “fishy”? Good news: all kinds of fish are rich in high-quality protein and other nutrients.

Here are the amounts of protein in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked fish (about the size of a deck of cards):

  • Non-oily fish (most types, including canned tuna): 22-26 grams
  • Oily or fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies): 20-25 grams

Fresh fish is delicious when consumed the same day it’s prepared. However, smoked, frozen, and canned fish are also great options that have longer shelf lives, take less time to prepare, and are less expensive than fresh.

Popular Diet Doctor fish-based recipes:

6. Legumes

Beans and other legumes can be good protein options for vegetarians and vegans. They’re high in fiber, and a few trials suggest that a legume-rich diet may decrease insulin resistance and reduce heart disease risk factors in some people.14

However, the protein in legumes is less easily absorbed than protein from animals and doesn’t provide all the essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs.15 Additionally, most legumes are considerably higher in net carbs than the other protein sources in this guide.

Here are the protein and net carb counts for one serving of various cooked legumes:

  • Lupini beans: 25 grams of protein and 11 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (166 grams)
  • Lentils: 18 grams of protein and 24 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (200 grams)
  • Black beans: 16 grams of protein and 26 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (170 grams)
  • Pinto beans: 15 grams of protein and 25 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (170 grams)
  • Chickpeas/garbanzo beans: 11 grams of protein and 26 grams of net carbs per 1 cup (164 grams)
  • Green peas: 10 grams of protein and 20 grams of net carbs per 1 1/4 cups (200 grams)

7. Greek yogurt

When choosing yogurt, go for Greek. It’s made by straining the liquid whey from yogurt, resulting in a thicker product that’s higher in protein and lower in carbs than other types. In one study, a higher-protein yogurt snack reduced hunger and increased fullness more than a lower-protein yogurt snack.16

Most plain Greek yogurts contain about 15-18 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per 170-gram (3/4 cup) container. However, make sure to read nutrition labels, as protein and carb counts vary from brand to brand.

Try Greek yogurt as a sour cream substitute, topped with chopped nuts, or simply enjoy its creamy goodness alone.

Popular Diet Doctor recipes featuring Greek yogurt:

8. Shellfish

Various types of shellfish are popular because of their delicate flavor and texture. Most are rich in high-quality protein and other essential nutrients. One notable exception is oysters, which are relatively low in protein compared to other kinds of shellfish.17

Crustaceans like shrimp, lobster, and most crab are essentially carb-free. However, mollusks like clams, mussels, and scallops do contain some carbs —something to keep in mind if you’re on a strict keto diet.

Check out this list to see how much protein you’ll get from your favorite shellfish (values are per 100 grams/3.5 ounces of shellfish, except where noted):

  • Shrimp: 24-26 grams protein per 10-15 large shrimp
  • Crab: 24-26 grams per 1 crab leg
  • Clams: 25 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per 10 small clams
  • Lobster: 20-24 grams per medium lobster tail (about 140 grams)
  • Mussels: 22-24 grams of protein and 7 grams of carbs per 20-25 mussels
  • Scallops: 20-22 grams of protein and 4-5 grams of carbs per 6 large sea scallops

While fresh shellfish is always a treat, canned varieties can be handy to keep in the pantry for a quick boost of protein.

Popular Diet Doctor shellfish recipes:

9. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are undeniably tasty and may potentially provide some health benefits.18 Yet like most plant proteins, they contain only small amounts of some of the essential amino acids.

Also, protein and carb counts vary a lot among different types of nuts and seeds. For example, although pecans, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts are lowest in carbs, they’re relatively low in protein compared to some other nuts.

Here are the highest-protein options, along with their net carb counts:

  • Hemp seeds, hulled: 25 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup (80 grams)
  • Peanuts: 18 grams of protein and 9 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup (72 grams)19
  • Peanut butter (natural): 16 grams of protein and 8 grams of net carbs per 1/4 cup (64 grams)
  • Almond butter: 15 grams of protein and 7 grams of net carbs per 1/4 cup (64 grams)
  • Almonds: 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup (64 grams)
  • Sunflower seed butter (no-sugar-added): 14 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbs per 1/4 cup (64 grams)
  • Tahini (ground sesame seeds): 10 grams of protein and 8 grams of net carbs per 1/4 cup (60 grams)

Popular Diet Doctor recipes featuring nuts and seeds:

10. Protein powder

At Diet Doctor, we recommend consuming mainly minimally processed foods. So you may be surprised to see protein powder on this list.

We’ve included it because it may be helpful for some vegans and vegetarians who struggle to meet their protein needs on a keto or low-carb diet. This is especially true for vegans who don’t consume soy.

So while we will always recommend that you choose fewer processed foods, we feel that occasionally using protein powder might make sense for some people.

Plant-based protein powders include pea, pumpkin seed, and various grain and legume mixtures. Most provide about 20 grams of protein per serving, and many are low in carbs. For more information and suggestions, see our vegan essential nutrient needs guide.

Here are three Diet Doctor recipes featuring protein powder:

High-protein foods: key takeaways

Knowing which foods are highest in protein can help you meet your protein needs. But don’t be concerned if you either don’t like or prefer to avoid some of the foods on the list. As you can see, there are many high-protein options. Choose the kinds you like, be sure to eat one or more protein serving at every meal, and try to mix it up a bit for variety.

/ Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

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  1. Nutrition Reviews 2016: Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis [systematic review of randomized trials; strong evidence]

    Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 2013: Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial
    [moderate evidence]

    Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2004: The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review [systematic review of randomized trials; strong evidence]

  2. Muscle, hormones, enzymes, and other structures in your body are made up of 20 amino acids. Every day, old proteins are broken down. Although most of the amino acids are recycled to be used again, a portion needs to be replenished with new amino acids, including nine that are essential, meaning your body can’t make them. These nine amino acids must come from protein you eat in your diet each day.

    International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2011: Protein turnover, ureagenesis and gluconeogenesis [overview article; ungraded]

  3. At Diet Doctor, we recommend eating 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. Learn more: How much protein should you eat?

  4. Nutrition information is from FoodData Central, the USDA’s nutrition database. Values may differ slightly from those found in other nutrition databases and on food labels.

  5. Advances in Nutrition 2020: Effects of total red meat intake on glycemic control and inflammatory biomarkers: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials [systematic review of randomized trials; strong evidence]

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018: A Mediterranean-style eating pattern with lean, unprocessed red meat has cardiometabolic benefits for adults who are overweight or obese in a randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trial [moderate evidence]

  6. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014: Protein-enriched diet, with the use of lean red meat, combined with progressive resistance training enhances lean tissue mass and muscle strength and reduces circulating IL-6 concentrations in elderly women: a cluster randomized controlled trial [moderate evidence]

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999: Effects of an omnivorous diet compared with a lactoovovegetarian diet on resistance-training-induced changes in body composition and skeletal muscle in older men [nonrandomized study; weak evidence]

  7. Biological Trace Element Research 2011: Frequent consumption of selenium-enriched chicken meat by adults causes weight loss and maintains their antioxidant status [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  8. Although eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, eating them doesn’t seem to raise cholesterol levels much in most people. In fact, frequent egg consumption may reduce cardiovascular risk by improving the ratio of HDL to triglycerides or HDL to LDL cholesterol:

    Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2006: Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations [overview article; ungraded]

    Lipids 2017: Intake of up to 3 eggs/day increases HDL cholesterol and plasma choline while plasma trimethylamine-n-oxide is unchanged in a healthy population [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

    Journal of Nutrition 2008: Dietary cholesterol from eggs increases plasma HDL cholesterol in overweight men consuming a carbohydrate-restricted diet [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  9. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017: Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  10. American Family Physician 2009: Soy: a complete source of protein
    [overview article; ungraded]

  11. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014: Appetite control and biomarkers of satiety with vegetarian (soy) and meat-based high-protein diets for weight loss in obese men: a randomized crossover trial
    [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

    Nutrients 2016: Effects of dietary protein source and quantity during weight loss on appetite, energy expenditure, and cardio-metabolic responses [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  12. Journal of Nutrition 2011: Increased consumption of dairy foods and protein during diet- and exercise-induced weight loss promotes fat mass loss and lean mass gain in overweight and obese premenopausal women [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  13. Some studies suggest that omega-3 fats may provide health benefits, or at least improve certain markers of heart health:

    Metabolism 2014: A fish-based diet intervention improves endothelial function in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover trial [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

    British Journal of Nutrition 2012: Dietary inclusion of salmon, herring and pompano as oily fish reduces CVD risk markers in dyslipidemic middle-aged and elderly Chinese women [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

    Nutrition Research 2010: Inclusion of Atlantic salmon in the Chinese diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk markers in dyslipidemic adult men [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  14. Nutrients 2018: A comparison of a pulse-based diet and the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet in combination with exercise and health counselling on the cardio-metabolic risk profile in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial
    [moderate evidence]

    Nutrients 2019: The effect of a low glycemic index pulse-based diet on insulin sensitivity, insulin resistance, bone resorption and cardiovascular risk factors during bed rest
    [moderate evidence]

  15. Although the quality of protein in different legumes varies, many appear to be about 20-50% less digestible than animal protein:

    Food Science and Nutrition 2017: Determination of the protein quality of cooked Canadian pulses [mechanistic study; ungraded]

  16. Appetite 2013: Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women
    [randomized trial; moderate evidence]

  17. A 100-gram serving of oysters (6-12 medium, depending on type) contains only 10-12 grams of protein.

  18. Nutrients 2017: Nuts and human health outcomes: a systematic review [systematic review of randomized trials; strong evidence]

  19. Peanuts are technically legumes rather than nuts, but are usually grouped with nuts due to their similarities