While most veggies average between one to five grams of protein per serving, a cup of peas can contain up to 10 grams, making it one of the most important plant-based protein sources out there, says Mary Dan Eades, M.D., author of Protein Power. But that’s not all: Unlike other plant sources, peas also contain high levels of glutamine, an amino acid compound that helps repair your muscles after workouts, improve digestive health, and they’ve even been shown to reduce sugar and alcohol cravings. In other words, start defrosting that bag in the freezer, like, right now.
2) WILD SALMON
“Out of all the protein sources, I would put organic wild fish as the best protein choice out there,” says Perlmutter. Considering a five-ounce portion packs a hefty 39 grams of protein in it, we totally get why. Not to mention it’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, keep your LDL cholesterol levels in check (that’s the bad kind), and reduce inflammation. While farmed salmon has a decent amount of nutrients in it, Perlmutter says it’s worth getting the wild variety, which the USDA says has around 130 fewer calories per serving.
3) COTTAGE CHEESE
Cheese fans, rejoice: You don’t need to make a huge sacrifice when you’re trying to lose weight. With a whopping 25 grams of protein and only 200 calories in a cup, a scoop of cottage cheese makes for a filling afternoon snack. Plus it’s chock-full of casein, a dairy protein that ultimately keeps you full longer, so you won’t be so tempted by that damn vending machine come 3:00 PM.
But we’re not just talking egg whites, people. Even though some claim there’s too much cholesterol and saturated fat in the yolk, Eades points out that the yolk is exactly where you’ll find tons of vitamins A, D, and E—stuff you’re not going to get in the whites alone. And you can’t argue with the heart healthy omega-3s, which research has shown reduces the risk of heart disease and weight problems. In other words, the whole egg is much more nutritious and contains around six grams of protein, so there’s no need to toss any of it aside.
5) GRASS-FED BEEF
Although the Paleo diet may be a bit controversial, Perl-mutter says followers of the plan are definitely right about their devotion to grass-fed steak. Now that new research has disproven the age-old belief that there’s a link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease (there isn’t), Perl-mutter says having a lean sirloin—which has a cool 22.5 grams of protein in just three ounces—from time to time is clutch. One caveat: “When picking out beef, make sure it is grass-fed and not grain-fed,” explains Perl-mutter. “Grain-fed protein sources are going to increase inflammation because of the omega-6 fatty acids in them.” Inflammation can lead to more belly fat, so it’s basically the exact opposite of what you’re going for.
Okay, okay, it’s not as protein-packed as, say, eating a three-ounce tenderloin. But for a plant-based protein source, it fairs pretty well. One artichoke has about five grams of the stuff, not to mention 11 grams of fat-blasting fiber. And Perlmutter explains that veggies like artichokes are filled with essential—yet hard to find—prebiotic fiber, which helps reduce inflammation, keeps gut bacteria in check, and satiates you for hours. So, when looking at all the nutritional bennies, it’s clear that these guys are worth it.
Along with 15 grams of protein—which, we might add, is pretty darn impressive for a fruit—coconut is also high in theronine, an amino acid your body uses to prevent fat buildup in the liver and speed up recovery after a butt-busting workout. Don’t have an actual coconut handy (unless you’re on a tropical vacay, in which case we’re really jeal)? You can still reap some of the health bennies from its derivatives, like coconut flour (four grams of protein in two tablespoons), milk (five grams per cup) and butter (two grams in two tablespoons).
8) PUMPKIN SEEDS
Before going to town on the salad you whipped up for lunch, top it off with a small scoop of crunchy pumpkin seeds. Even a tablespoon serving can pack three to five grams of protein in it. Of course, with the sneaky calorie count—there are about 60 calories per tablespoon—you shouldn’t go cray-cray. Measure out a tablespoon before sprinkling into your bowl.
9) WHITE BEANS
Generally speaking, organic white beans are a good way to rack up protein points without having to resort to an animal-based source, says Eades. Whether they’re in the form of navy bean soup or eaten as a side dish with dinner, a one-cup serving contains about 16 grams of protein and a hefty amount of thiamine, a vitamin that helps your body metabolize carbs more efficiently. Before you load up your cart, though, make sure you’re picking out the right kind of white beans, explains Perlmutter. “A lot of the legumes we are picking up nowadays have been treated with harmful herbicides, so it’s important consumers are eating something that is organically-grown and not treated with harsh chemicals.”
10) SUN DRIED TOMATOES
While we usually think of tomatoes being loaded with lycopene and other antioxidants, they can also have up to eight grams of protein. Why not eat ’em raw? Fresh tomatoes are definitely a good source of vitamin A and E, but research suggests that adding heat and oil can help your body better absorb the lycopene in them.
You can’t really argue with the numbers here: One cup of garbanzo beans equals a third of your daily protein recommendation and an impressive 19 grams of fiber. Plus, studies have shown that those who added legumes into a low-calorie diet lost about 50 percent more weight than those who didn’t because of all the slow-to-digest, plant-based fiber they contain. Our advice? Go for the hummus and baby carrots, but stick to a two tablespoon serving instead of going at it directly from the tub, as it’s way too easy to go overboard on the stuff (trust us on that one, we know from experience).
12) CHIA SEEDS
They don’t call ’em one of the healthiest superfoods on the planet for nothing. Aside from being rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3s and minerals that maintain bone health (think manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous), these tiny seeds contain about seven grams of protein in just two tablespoons. And let’s not forget about the 11 grams of fiber, either, which experts say causes you to absorb your food more slowly (and thus have better portion control). The best part: You can add ’em to pretty much everything—we’re particularly fond of these recipes.
13) PORK TENDERLOIN
Sadly, bacon should probably still remain a weekend-only treat, but experts say to dig into the pork loin. Assuming you stick to a three- to six-ounce portion (which’ll nab you 23 to 30 grams of protein), the meat is great for your waistline—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it’s as lean as a skinless chicken breasts with just three grams of fat per six ounces, and it’s a solid source of thiamin, phosphorous, and vitamin B-6, all of which help break down carbs and fat in your body.
When it comes to protein-packed legumes, at around 20 grams per cup lentils are definitely a must. As Eades points out, they’re also high in all sorts of minerals needed to maintain bone health, including magnesium, potassium, iron, folate, copper, and manganese. Oh, and they don’t require an annoying pre-soak before eating like other dried beans and legumes. So, lentil soup, anyone?
15) PEANUT BUTTER
Okay, okay, so PB is kind of a calorific way to rack up nine grams of protein, but studies have shown that if you stick to the two-tablespoon serving size (about 190 calories), the spread can be a helpful weight-loss aid—especially if you eat it in the morning. According to researchers, adding it to your breakfast specifically can help you better distinguish when you’re full for the rest of the day, thanks to its ability to moderate glucose levels and control blood sugar spikes. Moreover, you’ll be less likely to overeat and actually stay full until lunch time.
16) COW’S MILK
Nut milks like coconut, almond, and cashew are a great way to naturally get some vitamin D (all have about 25 grams per cup), but if we’re strictly talking calories and protein here, moo milk is a top-notch source. The stuff has just 86 calories while serving up eight grams of protein in a cup (as opposed to a measly one to two grams in the nutty options), says Eades. That said, every glass of milk is definitely not created equally. To make sure you’re not being exposed to potentially harmful rBGH hormones or excessive amounts of estrogen—which research suggests is a potential link to prostate and breast cancers—Eades recommends opting for organic fat-free milk from grass-fed cows that have not been treated with hormones to play it safe.
17) GREEK YOGURT
Whether you prefer a dollop on your baked potato or a scoop with fresh fruit in the A.M., you really can’t go wrong here—that is, if you side-step the sugary, flavored options, says Eades. Be sure to read your labels carefully: One six-ounce Greek yogurt pack can contain as much as 30 grams of sugar when they have “fruit on the bottom” or are flavored in any way. (For comparison purposes, that’s more sugar than you’ll find in a Snickers bar.) If you’re unsure of which variety to grab, Eades says whichever has the most protein (think 18 to 25 grams) and lowest amount of sugar (six grams or less) is your winner.
Welp, we know what we’ll be having for lunch today. All varieties of tuna—white, albacore, yellowfin—have around 25 grams of protein and only 150 calories in a three-ounce serving, making it an easy dieting win. That said, limit your intake: Experts say it’s best to stick to less than 12 ounces of seafood per week (no more than six if you’re pregnant), to make sure you’re not overdoing it on the mercury, says Eades.
Not including the soy sauce or, um, heavy pour of sea salt on top (it’s okay, we do it, too), this classic app boasts about 17 grams of protein per cup. As with most soy products though, Eades says to be careful about how much you dig in. “Soybeans contain a fair amount of estrogen, so even though soy can definitely keep you full, it can also cause unwanted side effects sometimes,” she says. Namely we’re talkin’ bloat, headaches, and tender breasts. For the most part though, if you order a plate of edamame or drink a glass of soy milk now and again, Eades says you should still be a-okay.
Your mom didn’t badger you to eat the stuff for nothing: The florets are super low-cal, contain about 5 grams of protein per cup, and host a laundry-list of nutrients, including filling soluble fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K and C. And even though experts say the green veggie can sometimes be hard to digest because of their complex sugars, Katie Cavuto, M.S., a nutritionist and registered dietitian, recommends eating them with a dietary supplement (try Digest Gold) to make it easier on your tummy. So, as long as it’s not covered in cheese sauce, broccoli is, hands down, a dieting do.
Consider this yet another reason to eat that glorious piece of avocado toast in the morning. The fruit is loaded with omega-3s and beta-carotene, which helps boost your immune system, and Eades says it’s a decent source of protein at five grams per fruit. Bonus: The monounsaturated fatty acids found in the stuff has been directly linked to eating less and feeling satisfied longer, and even helps fight inflammation.
We could go on for days about why unsalted almonds are the ideal weight-loss snack, but in a nutshell, it all comes down to the mono-saturated fats that make them highly satiating without any extra calories, says Eades. To make the deal even sweeter, studies suggest that regularly eating 20 to 23 almonds (which boast around seven grams of protein) per day can help you maintain a healthy weight and decrease the odds of gaining any back due to their vitamin E, magnesium, and phytochemicals that control the fluctuations of blood glucose during digestion. In short, keep a bag of them in your desk drawer at all times.
23) BONE BROTH
When mom said it’s what’s on the inside that counts, we’re sure she was totally talking about the not-so-pleasant-looking bone broth. Even though the stuff doesn’t look very appetizing, it’s actually quite tasty and contains all sorts of health benefits, including gelatin to ease digestion and collagen that helps maintain bone health—oh, and six grams of protein per cup. Make it easy to whip up a batch and try our slow-cooker version to reap the health rewards.
24) RYE BERRIES
Also known as the seed-looking things you often see in pumpernickel bread. It’s not a very well-known food, but it’s certainly one of the most protein-filled. A quarter-cup of this super food packs an impressive seven grams, making it ideal for instantly upping your soup or salad’s protein game. But be warned: Though there’s no denying it’s a powerhouse of a food, at around 150 calories per quarter-cup, it’s crucial to make sure you’re watching your portion size for these guys.
Need a healthy side dish but can’t bear the thought of yet another night of steamed veggies? We feel you. Opt for a cup of red or white quinoa, which researchers say are loaded with lysine, one of the nine essential amino acids needed to produce collagen for your bones and muscle tissue recovery. You’ll also get eight grams of protein, and research says the grain’s high fiber content makes it one of the most digestible and filling carbohydrates out there, beating out buckwheat pasta, brown rice, barley, and wheat. As if that wasn’t enough already, quinoa is also high in the riboflavin vitamin B complex that’s essential for breaking down carbs and fat. High in fiber and a mega fat burner? Sign us up, please.