The most nutrient-dense sources of protein


proteinWhat do you think of when you hear the word protein? 

Chicken breast?

Quest bars?



Protein powder?

Before I began studying nutrition, I found it difficult to name a source of protein that wasn’t a type of meat or a protein-specific product. I had relied on meat for protein for as long as I could remember. I certainly had no idea about the world of vegan body builders and athletes, it seemed like a complete oxymoron to me. 

As I got older and entered the notorious world of dieting, I noticed that most diets recommended replacing carbohydrate foods with protein-packed meat in a bid to lose weight. I quickly began to associate protein with meat, and meat only. 

When trying to lose weight or hit your daily protein goal, it can be easy to fall into the ol’ “plain chicken breast, brown rice and vegetables” trap. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There’s a whole variety of healthy foods out there that contain protein as well as fibre, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients. Here are 12 nutrient-dense foods that pack much more than just protein. 

1. Salmon

  • 100g of salmon has 20g of protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D and selenium. 

Many studies have found that people who regularly eat fish have a lower risk of cerebrovascular disease which can lead to a stroke. Adequate intake of marine Omega-3s has also been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular complications like heart failure. Fatty fish has even been shown to benefit brain health. If the budget is a little tight, try recipes with canned salmon which is about a tenth of the price of salmon fillets. Bonus points for sustainably-sourced salmon!

2. Soy 

  • 100g firm tofu has 12g of protein as well as calcium, iron and a whopping 7g of fibre.

Soy products are the epitome of meat substitutes, but they also have plenty of other health benefits than protein. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found substituting soy foods for animal products reduces the risk of heart disease. The extra fibre will also help to keep you to feel fuller for longer while reducing the risk of bowel cancer. 

3. Chickpeas

  • 100g of cooked chickpeas has 7g of protein as well as fibre, beta-carotene and folate. 

Chickpeas are a great source of protein as well as healthy carbohydrates. They’re also super low in fat and low in energy/calories. Chickpeas and other legumes have been shown to benefit a number of health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive diseases and some cancers. 

4. Oats

  • 50g of rolled oats has nearly 6g of protein as well as beta-glucan fibre, zinc, iron and manganese.

Another so-called superfood that you probably have lying around. This review found that a high consumption of whole grain foods such as oats is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Oats contain a specific type of fibre called beta-glucan which has been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels. 

5. Gelatin powder

I’m a huge fan of not letting food go to waste, and gelatin is a perfect example of using every part of the animal. Gelatin is almost pure protein, over 85 percent to be more precise. This study found that the easily-digestible amino acids in gelatin may lower inflammation in the gut. It also has no cholesterol. Wondering how on earth you could work gelatin into your diet? Try these berry jelly squares

6. Beans

Beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you… I’m sure you know the rest. Beans have that reputation because they’re jam packed full of fibre and complex carbohydrates. Part of the legume family, kidney, white, black, green, pinto, cannellini and lima beans are a good source of healthy carbohydrates and protein. They’re also MUCH cheaper than meat. 

7. Organ meats

  • 100g of chicken livers has 25g of protein, as well as a crazy amount of folate, vitamin A and C. 

Organ meat isn’t a huge part of the standard Western diet, but it really should be with its nutritional qualities. Liver and other organ meats have some of the highest concentrations of healthy compounds such as Vitamins A, D, B12, K2 and E. There’re even minerals like iron and zinc. 

8. Quinoa

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa (185g) has 8g of protein. Quinoa has all nine essential amino acids and is considered a complete protein. 

Technically a seed, quinoa has taken the hipster food world by storm. Quinoa is often dubbed a superfood and a functional food because of its long list of nutritional qualities. It’s filled with fibre and complex carbs. Quinoa is also a source of iron, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins and other anti-oxidants. It’s also recognised as a complete food because of its protein quality and content, score!

9. Eggs

  • 2 medium eggs have 12 of protein as well as fat soluble vitamins.

Eggs have slowly but surely made their way back to the “healthy list” after evidence emerged that dietary cholesterol really has little impact on bad cholesterol levels in the body. Using only egg whites has become a popular dieting trick. Unfortunately, it involves cutting out the most nutritious part of the egg: the yolk. Egg yolks are a great source of B vitamins, as well as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and omega-3s. 

10. Mock meats

  • one vegan schnitzel has 11g of protein, but plenty more fibre than processed chicken schnitzels.

Processed meat substitutes aren’t a great example of healthy eating because they a few of the downfalls of traditional processed meat, like a decent hit of salt and a number of additives. But they’ve got a whopping 7g of fibre too! A vegetarian, or at least a diet with more vegetarian foods, have been shown to effectively lower blood concentrations of total cholesterol. This review even suggested a vegetarian diet as a non-pharmaceutical way to treat elevated cholesterol levels. Couldn’t imagine going without meat for a meal? Read my guide to having a Meatless Money

11. Nuts

  • 50g of almonds has 10g of protein, as well as healthy unsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin E and niacin. 

Admittedly, I was too scared to eat many nuts when I was first trying to lose weight because they are energy-dense, but they’re certainly worth every calorie – and I certainly had no idea nuts were a source of protein. This study found eating nuts may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease and hypertension. While this review also found that eating nutrient-rich nuts can have cardiovascular advantages, as well as metabolic benefits. Almonds have been shown to benefit body weight, blood sugar, inflammation, and oxidative stress. While pistachios boost heart-healthy blood lipid profiles. 

12. Vegan protein powders

  • 30g of hemp protein powder has 12g of protein, as well as fibre, chlorophyll, and a number of minerals. 

Although whey protein dominates the protein supplement game, there are a number of other protein powder types that don’t contain lactose or animal products. Hemp seeds also have high levels of vitamins A, C and E and beta-carotene. And no, you will not get high from eating hemp protein. 

Let’s chat below! Did you know these foods were sources of protein + heaps of other nutrients?

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