What is protein?

Protein provides energy and supports your mood and cognitive function. It’s a vital nutrient required for building, maintaining, and repairing tissues, cells, and organs throughout the body. While it’s in many of the foods that we eat every day, for something so common it’s often a misunderstood part of our diets.

When you eat protein, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy. The amino acid tryptophan influences mood by producing serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve overall cognitive function.

Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.

Good sources of high-quality protein

Fish. Most seafood is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, sablefish (black cod), and herring are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week.

Poultry. Removing the skin from chicken and turkey can substantially reduce the saturated fat. In the U.S., non-organic poultry may also contain antibiotics and been raised on GMO feed grown with pesticides, so opt for organic and free-range if possible.

Dairy products. Products such as skim milk, cheese, and yoghurt offer lots of healthy protein. Beware of added sugar in low-fat yoghurts and flavored milk, though, and skip processed cheese that often contains non-dairy ingredients.

Beans. Beans and peas are packed full of both protein and fiber. Add them to salads, soups and stews to boost your protein intake.

Nuts and seeds. As well as being rich sources of protein, nuts and seeds are also high in fiber and “good” fats. Add to salads or keep handy for snacks.

Tofu and soy products. Non-GMO tofu and soy are excellent red meat alternatives, high in protein and low in fat. Try a “meatless Monday,” plant-based protein sources are often less expensive than meat so it can be as good for your wallet as it is for your health.

Nutrition values are approximate only; significant variations occur according to brand, cut of meat, cooking method, etc.

FoodGrams of protein
Canned tuna – 3 ounces20
Salmon – 3 ounces19
Turkey breast – 3 ounces26
Chicken breast – 3 ounces27
Skirt steak – 3 ounces25
Ground beef (70% lean) – 3 ounces22
Kidney beans – 1/3 cup4
Black beans – 1/3 cup5
Non-fat milk – 1/2 cup4
Soy milk – 1/2 cup4
Eggs – 1 large6
Mozzarella cheese – 3 ounces19
Cheddar – 3 ounces19
Low-fat cottage cheese – 1/2 cup12
Peanut butter – 2 tbsp.7
Almonds – 1/4 cup (24 nuts)8
Walnuts – 1/4 cup (14 halves)3
Veggie burger – 1 patty23
Tofu – 1/2 cup11
Yogurt, plain – 1 cup9
Whey protein powder – 1/3 cup19


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