Protein is a critical macronutrient to maintain a healthy diet and a strong body. But are you getting the proper amount from the right foods?

Without protein, human beings would be in a sorry state. This critical nutrient (which joins fat and carbohydrates in the trio of macronutrients) not only builds muscle tissue, it’s a vital component of hormones and enzymes and gives structural support to cells, per StatPearls.

Fortunately, when it comes to protein, most of us don’t have trouble meeting our needs. According to an analysis of data from 2001 to 2014, adults in the United States consume close to 90 grams of protein per day, on average. While this is higher than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Daily Value of a minimum of 50 grams, the authors note that the FDA’s recommendation is based on a minimum intake intended to prevent deficiency – not necessarily to optimise body function.

However, not all proteins are created equal. In fact, when people eat lots of protein from meat high in saturated fat, it can be harmful to heart health by increasing cholesterol levels. And eating too much protein may also leave no room for other healthy foods like fruit and vege, according to the American Heart Association.

That’s why a well-planned diet that contains healthy proteins can support your overall wellbeing. Yet, with the rising popularity of snacks, lean meals, and plant-based options, plenty of folks are now asking whether some protein sources are better than others. Here’s a look at how nutrition experts rank nine common sources of this muscle-building macro.

Best: Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is made by straining off excess liquid whey from traditional yogurt, making it thicker and doubling the protein content, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Whole, unsweetened Greek yogurt contains 8.78 grams of protein per 100 grams, according to the USDA.

Not only does this creamy source of protein bulk up muscle tissue, according to one study that looked at the combination of both resistance exercise and consuming Greek yogurt, it’s also a power player for numerous other health benefits. Moreover, nutrients like calcium and vitamin D play a key role in your overall health, as they aid in muscle and nerve function, help maintain a healthy immune system, and regulate blood flow, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is imperative however, to read the nutrition label before buying, says Lauren Hubert, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. “It’s easy to think you’re buying a yogurt that’s high in protein, but it actually has a ton of sugar,” she says. Choosing plain Greek yogurt is the ideal option, says Hubert, and then you can sweeten to-taste by adding chopped fruit, cinnamon, or a little honey or maple syrup.

Worst: Plant-Based Yogurt

While Greek yogurt can be a good protein choice, the same isn’t necessarily true for plant-based yogurts. “Most plant-based yogurts don’t contain a lot of protein,” says Alyssa Smolen, MS, RD, based in Essex County, New Jersey “If you are looking to have yogurt to fulfill your protein needs, it’s best to stick to dairy yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt.” Coconut yogurt for example, only has 0.31 grams per 100 grams of protein, per the USDA.

Best: Eggs

For a simple protein fix, you can’t go wrong with eggs. According to David Katz, MD, MPH, an internal, preventative, and lifestyle medicine specialist in Hamden, Connecticut, eggs provide a solid source of nutrition that’s both convenient and versatile. At 6 grams per large chicken egg, they provide a serious high-quality protein bang for your buck, per the USDA. According to a recent study, protein from eggs is the most digestible protein in food – meaning the amino acids in eggs are more available for the body to use – compared to dairy, meat, and plant-based sources of protein.

Eggs have also been shown to help decrease appetite to aid in weight management, support immune function, and regulate blood pressure.

“I’m a dietitian, and I eat eggs every single day,” says Hubert. “The yolk alone contains about 40 percent of its protein, according to the research above, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12, amongst others.



Worst: Red Meat

Though red meat contains some of the highest protein levels of any food – 29 grams in 100 grams of lean top sirloin, for example, according to the USDA – it’s not without serious downsides. Dr. Katz says red meat is a triple negative due to its environmental impact, its potential for animal cruelty, and its effects on human health. Greater intake of red meat (even the unprocessed kind) has been linked to higher risk of heart disease, notes one study, and type 2 diabetes, according to another study. Katz’s conclusion: “The less [red meat], the better.”

Best: Beans

“For every bad mark beef gets, beans get a good mark,” says Katz. They’re high in fibre and protein, low in saturated fat, have comparatively minimal environmental impact, past research shows, and won’t break your grocery budget. Canned or dry beans in particular make a smart choice: A half-cup serving provides 9 grams of both protein and fibre per 100 grams, according to the USDA.

Worst: Hot Dogs

No surprises here: Hot dogs aren’t in the highest echelon of protein choices. As processed meats, they harbour many of the same health risks as red meats. In fact, red and processed meats have both been associated with significantly higher risk of colorectal cancer, according to a meta-analysis. In addition, one systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that eating processed meats like hot dogs increases the risk of ischaemic heart disease by 18 percent.

This has to do with how they are prepared. “Meats that will be less nourishing, such as processed meats like sausages and hotdogs, have a lot of fat and sodium added to them during processing,” says Hubert. One regular hot dog has 472 mg of sodium and 6.5 g of saturated fat, according to the USDA, which is 20 and 32 percent of your daily value for sodium and saturated fat, respectively, in an entire day.

Best: Wild Salmon

To get high-quality protein (the kind that provides all the essential amino acids your body needs), you don’t have to eat animal foods. But if you do, Katz recommends wild salmon. Why go wild? Compared to farmed salmon, which has 22.1 grams of protein per 100 grams, according to the USDA, the wild-caught kind will net you a bit more at 25.4 grams per 100 grams, per the USDA. (This is because farmed salmon’s diet contains more fat, resulting in a fattier, lower-protein fish, notes the Washington State Department of Health.) Still, wild salmon is also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Worst: Hard Salami

Much like hot dogs, hard salami is a problematic protein for its high degree of processing and its fat and sodium content. Though 100 grams of hard pork salami provides an impressive 22.6 grams of protein, it also comes with 407 calories, 13.4 grams of saturated fat, and 2,260 mg of sodium, according to the USDA. Again, high amounts of these nutrients can increase your risk of heart disease. If you’re really craving some hard salami on a charcuterie board or sandwich, minimise portions to one ounce and enjoy it only on occasion. For reference, one ounce is about 3 to 6 slices, depending on how thinly they’re cut.

Best: Lentils

Searching for a plant-based protein that’ll fill you up? Look no further than lentils. Their combo of high protein and high fibre can be satisfying in stews, curries, and more. Per the USDA, 100 grams of cooked lentils contains 7.9 grams of fibre and 9 grams of protein. The little legumes come in brown, green, red, black, or yellow – and all have top-notch nutrition.

In fact, lentils are some of the overall healthiest foods around. “Pulses like lentils are so nutritious that they are one of the few foods to be categorised as both a vegetable and a protein by the USDA,” Amidor says.


Protein isn’t just for pro-athletes or folks who want to bulk up. This macronutrient fuels numerous important processes in every human body. To make the best decisions for your protein intake, it’s best to lean on minimally processed foods like beans, wild salmon, lentils, and eggs – and avoid more processed options like plant-based yogurts, hot dogs, and salami. If you’re concerned about how much protein you’re getting or where you’re getting it from, talk to a registered dietitian who can give you guidance specific to your unique needs.

SOURCE: Everyday Health