Protein Rich Foods

A slightly higher intake of protein can benefit you especially if you want to maintain or increase muscle mass. More than the stated RNI is beneficial the older you get to help with muscle maintenance and repair.

Finding a good affordable source of protein can be difficult so I created this guide to show which foods are protein rich and highlight the other nutritionally beneficial factors of each food.

We should all be eating a healthier diet and increasing your protein intake will also mean increasing your intake of healthier foods. Plant based foods with higher levels of protein also tend to have more fibre and in the UK we eat far too little, adults should aim for about 30 grams of fibre a day.

Eating more fibre will mean you are eating more whole foods like, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables so you will be more likely to be eating the right foods with the essential vitamins and minerals you need to keep your immune system healthy.

Protein powder supplements

If you are an active sports person or train to build strength and muscle volume (which has numerous other health benefits) or a vegan then you can benefit from supplementing your diet with protein powders.

It is generally better to get most of your protein from lean meat. If you are a vegan, vegetarian or on a limited budget then it can be more cost effective and convenient to supplement with soya protein. Yes I said soy protein isolate rather than whey. There is nothing wrong with whey protein powder but you can get similar benefits from soy which is suitable for vegans and is far cheaper especially if you choose unflavoured soy powders and use fruit such as berries to sweeten it.

The body of an average 80 year old has lost about 50% of his muscle mass since the age of 50, which has been replaced by fat. By removing the fat and regenerating the lost muscle, we can give the 80 year old a body composition similar to that of one 20 or even 30 years younger!
Charles Eugster FRSM

Vary your protein sources

You can benefit from a varied diet that includes low fat sources of protein from animals and plants. Primary high protein sources include chicken, fish and soy and are all considered healthy and high quality containing all the amino acids your body needs.

Supplement this with secondary sources of protein that are less protein dense but also include beneficial fats (omega 3 and 6), vitamins, minerals and high fibre. These could include nuts and beans among other foods.

The more processing a food goes through the more harmful it tends to be. Chemical changes in burnt food is thought to cause cancer, undercooked food can cause food poisoning, nitrates added to processed red meat are thought to cause cancer.

Where possible buy the food that has gone through the least processing. There are exceptions where some processing is beneficial, tin tomatoes are better than fresh as the cooking process breaks down the cell wall releasing the antioxidant lycopene thought to reduce the risk of some cancers, cholesterol, heart disease and possibly be beneficial to people suffering from osteoporosis.

So consider what you eat more carefully and choose options that are ultimately going to be beneficial to your health and longevity.

What do you want from a high protein food?

You may be looking for a variety of different protein sources that provide a varied balanced protein rich diet whilst helping maintain lower body fat levels whilst supporting muscle growth and repair.

People choose a diet rich in protein for weight gain and muscle building, weight loss, repair and to maintain muscle, skin and hair.

A diet plan that contains protein will vary not so much in the source of protein but in the quantity depending on your health and if you are male or female. For children and toddlers and during pregnancy the amount of protein you need to consume will also vary.

Your body also needs essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, fats and carbohydrates so when choosing the foods you put into your body why not ensure you are getting a quality protein source and essential body maintaining nutrients.

Make sure you get your protein from a diverse range of foods and do not rely on one or two sources. It's all about a balanced diet.

Quinoa and soya beans are the only plant foods to contain all essential amino acids.

Food Highest in Protein

Percentage shows the amount of protein per 100g of food listed.

  • Soy protein 90%
  • Gelatin powder 83%
  • Egg white powder 82%
  • Whey protein 80%
  • Spirulina powder 57%
  • Tinned Tuna 25%
  • Frozen chicken breast fillets 24%
  • Frozen cod fillets 22%
  • Frozen white fish fillets 22%
  • Beef 20%
  • Gammon Roasting Joint 20%
  • Ham 20%
  • Vegetarian sausages 18%
  • Quorn mince 15%
  • Meat free vegetarian mince 15%

To find out more about protein sources and their amino acid profiles take a look at these sources of foods rich in protein.

What Foods Contain Protein?

Seafood and poultry contain high levels of protein along with red meat, eggs, beans, peas, soy, nuts and seeds. Foods in powder form such as soy, gelatin, whey and egg white contain the densest levels ranging from from the mid 50's to 90% of product weight.

What About Vegan Sources of Protein?

Beans and grains have the highest levels. Nuts and seeds are high in protein but they contain a lot of fat (good fats like Omega 3) and calories so should only be eaten in moderation.

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Beans Are An Ideal Protein Source For Everyone

Pulses which include beans are not only a good source of protein but also high in fibre and very low in sugar salt and fat. Pinto beans for example contain Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C.

Tinned beans are a great way get protein, fibre and nutrients into your diet. However, ditch salt and sugar laden beans in tomato sauce and opt for a tin of mixed beans in water and cook with tinned tomatoes.

Why? A tin of Aldi Sweet Harvest mixed beans in water contain 7.5g protein and 11g of fibre per 100g (drained). Tinned beans are already cooked so natural toxins that exist in some raw beans are destroyed making them safe to eat.

It's also more convenient taking only about 5 minutes to prepare compared to dried beans where you have to remember to soak them the day before and then cook for upto an hour.

Fruits, vegetables and high fibre foods reduce your risk of cancer whilst red and processed meats and salt, increase the risk of developing cancer.

Protein and Complex Carbohydrates

You can't focus on protein alone as you need carbohydrates in your diet so you should be mixing or combining protein and carbohydrates into every meal. Carbs are your main source of energy and represent one third of any meal in the food pyramid.

The NHS Eatwell guide states that we should be concentrating on wholegrain and high fibre carbohydrates that are low in salt, fat and added sugar. Choose whole grain and whole wheat versions of rice, pasta, cereals and bread.

Check the food labelling when buy products to see which has the highest fibre. Check the ingredients to see if there are any added sugars or fats and avoid these if possible.

You can also get simple carbohydrates and protein from fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses and dairy but tend to be lower in complex carbohydrates.

They are however a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre which play an important role in a healthy diet.

Fruit and veg contain a high percentage of water and therefore tend to be lower in calories by weight. Plus you're getting more water in your diet.

Guidance on Protein Intake Levels

It's important not to focus on one food source. Although Soy Protein Isolate is one of the most protein dense foods, you can't just live on one type of food. You need a diverse array of foodstuffs to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs.

Different sources of protein have different amino acid profiles so mix up your foods to ensure you get a healthy balance.

It is also important to remember that when you compare foodstuffs that dried food tends to have a higher percentage of protein as it is concentrated and the as water is removed.

Eating up to twice the current RNI for protein is generally thought to be safe.

Protein Rich Diet

You may be on or considering a protein rich diet for weight gain and muscle building or as a plan for weight loss.

It is important not to lose perspective when focussing on a protein rich diet and end up restricting the diversity of foods and supplements that you consume.

A diet high in protein is beneficial and there are many advocates such as Charles Eugster who state the benefits of a diet higher in protein combined with exercise as you get older to combat muscle loss.

Is Eating Too Much Protein Bad For Me?

For most people the issue is that they do not get enough protein in their diets, this is more pronounced the older you get. For a healthy individual it is unlikely they would be able to eat too much protein for it to have any negative effects. The exception to this are people with certain health issues which we discuss later.

There is little point in eating excess protein as the excess amino acids will just get excreted and unless you are active excess calories will be stored as fat. The key is to get your protein from a varied source so that you get an overall balances consumption of the different amino acids that your body needs.

The exact figure varies depending on which expert you listen to but in general there is no benefit in consuming more than 25 to 30 grams of protein in one sitting. So one scoop of protein powder in your morning porridge is enough, one 100g chicken breast fillet with your meal is enough.

In short you don't need to worry, you should be more concerned with getting an overall well balanced diet with enough fibre, good healthy fats and carbohydrates to fuel your body.

The RDA for those engaged in strength training should be about 1.7 - 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day.
Dr Lemon

High Protein Diets and Renal Function

There is a school of thought that a very high intake of protein can cause renal problems. One study on dietary protein intake and renal function6 suggests that there is no evidence for this in normally healthy individuals who do not have pre-existing renal disease.

Kidney Disease and Renal Function

Athletes taking up to 2.5 times the RNI showed no long term renal problems. There is no evidence of impaired kidney function in physically active people.

This does not mean that someone with a sedentary lifestyle can do the same. Athletes and bodybuilder have more muscle mass and burn off far more calories and so will benefit from a higher intake.

Studies suggest that people with existing kidney problems should not increase their protein intake as the kidneys are already struggling to excrete urea.

The older you get the more protein you need to eat as your muscles waste with age and your body finds it harder to process the food you eat.

Calculate how much protein you are already eating, the guidelines state 0.75g per kilo of bodyweight. So an 11 and a half stone sedentary adult would need about 55 grams a day. That same adult could increase their protein intake up to 165 grams a day if they were doing intense training.

What Happens With Excess Protein

Too much protein and your kidneys have to work harder to excrete the excess nitrogen found in the amino acids in protein.

Your body only needs a certain amount and it cannot be stored so is used for energy if there are no carbohydrates available and the excess will be stored as fat.

For muscle building an intake of 1.6 - 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight is recommended.
Susan M Kleiner, PhD

All information provided on this website is well researched or based on my own experience or my personal opinions and is not intended to constitute medical advice. The overall aim of this site is to encourage people to lead a healthier lifestyle by including healthy sources of protein rich in vitamins and nutrients in their diets as a part of a diverse and well balanced diet.

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