Protein is critical for the well-being of one’s body. While it is commonly understood that protein helps with muscle building and muscle growth, in reality protein does a lot more. For example, it also plays an essential role in cell regeneration (including the growth of hair and skin), it is responsible for the production of hormones, enzymes, and other elements that the body needs on a continual basis, it plays an important role in deciding how water is balanced in the body and how well it absorbs nutrients, it helps to maintain and strengthen the immune system, and it helps to increase stamina. So, protein is pretty important. But what are the best natural sources of it?
Foods High in Protein
Cheese – One slice of cheddar cheese – 30 grams’ worth – provides us with 7 grams of natural protein. This protein also comes with a lot of high-quality fat as well (30 grams of cheese yields approximately 10 grams of fat, of which 6 grams is saturated fat), making it an excellent choice for body builders.
Beans – Beans are the best protein sources for vegetarians and vegans. Soy beans contain the most protein; 100 grams of them provides us with a massive 40 grams of protein. Unfortunately, soy beans also happen to be calorie-dense (although this might not be a disadvantage for highly-active people who require good sources of energy). Lupin beans are second best in the protein department, providing us with 16 grams of protein per 100 grams of beans. Ultimately, however, all bean varieties are protein-rich. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Lean meats – Lean meats are said to be the overall best sources of protein, and they are also low in calories and fat. 100 grams of chicken provides us with an impressive 40 grams of protein, while 100 grams of pork chops provides us with 30 grams of protein. Turkey is the leanest of all meats; 100 grams of turkey breast meat provides us with 15 grams of protein, along with 100 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.
Peas – Surprisingly, the humble pea is an excellent source of protein. Just half a cup of peas provides us with 4-5 grams of protein, along with a modest 65 calories. Peas are also an excellent source of vitamin A and iron, so don’t forget about them when preparing meals!
Brussels sprouts – Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of protein. One cup of sprouts – 160 grams’ worth – provides 6 grams of natural, plant-based protein. Furthermore, sprouts are low in calories. Indeed, one cup of sprouts provides only 65 calories, noticeably less than many other vegetables of comparable size and protein content. Additionally, sprouts provide us with 100% (yes, 100%) of our recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants on Earth. Brussels sprouts can be eaten raw or boiled.
Sweetcorn – One cup of sweetcorn contains approximately 5 grams of high-quality, natural protein. As with beans, be a little careful with your corn intake, however, since one cup contains a higher-than-usual 150 calories.
Asparagus – This might be surprising, but half a cup of asparagus – that often-forgotten, slender green vegetable – contains an impressive 3 grams of protein. Asparagus is also rich in antioxidants like vitamin A and C, as well as important trace minerals like iron and calcium.
Fish – Fish is another excellent source of protein, and it is often low in calories and fat. 100 grams of salmon provides us with 20 grams of protein and approximately 175 calories. Salmon, however, has an unusually high fat content; approximately 10 grams of fat per 100 gram serving. Tuna is a much better (and perhaps the best) choice for fish-based protein sources, since a 100 gram serving of it provides us with 20 grams of protein, less than 100 calories, and negligible amounts of fat.
Potatoes – Potatoes are another vegetable that people are often surprised to see on ‘high protein’ lists, but alas, it is true. Although their protein content is not as high as those of beans or sprouts, 300 grams of potatoes still provide us with a solid 5 grams of natural protein.
Egg whites – Let’s face it, it was going to make the list eventually! One humble egg white provides us with 4 grams of protein and virtually no fat. This makes it another great protein source for vegetarians.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
Obviously, a petite 100 lbs female will not require the same amount of protein per day that a 230 lbs male bodybuilder requires. As far as averages are concerned, however, 15-35% of your daily calorie intake should be reserved for protein alone. In other words, the average woman should consume about 45 grams of protein per day (unless she is pregnant, in which case 65-75 grams is the recommended number), whilst the average male should consume about 55 grams of protein per day.
People who regularly hit the gym in an effort to increase muscle mass will, of course, benefit from a higher protein intake. Researchers often claim that muscle builders should consume about 1-2 grams of protein for every pound of body weight they possess, but these claims have largely been the exaggerations of whey protein marketers. More objective research research, however, recommends that the average bodybuilder consume 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight.