Protein is a powerful tool for managing your hunger and weight. Of all the macronutrients (that’s protein, carbohydrate, and fat), protein is the most filling. Not only does it help you feel full, it also boosts your metabolism, and ensures you hang onto healthy muscle while losing fat. That’s one good reason why high-protein diets have become so popular, although going paleo or trying Whole30 may not be the healthiest choice. Trendy diets take the notion too far, putting too much emphasis on meat alone, at the expense of other essential foods, like grains and dairy.
It’s better to understand how much protein you really need, and try to balance it throughout the day. That doesn’t mean you need to load your plate with meat (most American adult and teen males are actually eating too much meat, poultry, and eggs). But you do need to pay attention to when you eat it. Most people make the mistake of saving it for the end of the day—you know, cereal for breakfast, a sliver of ham on a sandwich for lunch, and a huge hunk of steak or chicken for dinner. So how can you harness the hunger-fighting power of protein? It’s simple when you know your numbers.
Eat Protein Throughout the Day
The total amount of protein you need ranges between 0.8 to 1.6 grams per kilogram body weight (or 0.4 to 0.7 grams per pound), and depends on your age and how active you are. And if you’re trying to lose weight, aiming for the slightly higher amounts of protein can help you reach your goal. Research points to the benefits of spreading your protein throughout the day, to really tap into the feelings of fullness it offers, so it’s smart to take in about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal—for most people, that means eating more protein at breakfast and lunch and easing up at dinner. Including 10 to 20 grams of protein with your snacks will make them more satisfying, too.
12 Healthy Protein Picks
This might come as a surprise, but whole grains provide protein, too, as does dairy. In fact,1 cup of quinoa delivers more protein than a large egg, and 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese offers more than a 3-ounce steak. Mix it up when making your protein choices, and opt for lean, low-fat, and minimally processed foods. A few to consider:
|Food||Average protein per serving|
|Poultry (3 ounces)||26 g|
|Meat (3 ounces)||25 g|
|Seafood (3 ounces)||18 g|
|Beans (1 cup)||16 g|
|Low-fat Greek yogurt (5 ounces)||15 g|
|Tempeh (3 oz)||15 g|
|Low-fat cottage cheese (½ cup)||13 g|
|Eggs (2 large)||12 g|
|Cheese (1½ ounces)||10 g|
|Low-fat or nonfat milk (1 cup)||8 g|
|Quinoa (1 cup)||8 g|
|Mixed nuts (1 ounce)||6 g|
The Right Amount of Protein for Your Plate
Breakfast ideas: 25–30 g protein and 400–500 calories
- Delicious overnight oats soaked in 1 cup low-fat milk, topped with 1 cup apple, 3 chopped walnuts, and cinnamon, topped with a small tub of low-fat Greek yogurt
- A fluffy omelette made with 2 large eggs, 1½ oz low-fat cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, served with sliced ½ an avocado and whole-wheat toast
- A breakfast burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla filled with 1 scrambled egg, ½ cup black beans, sautéed peppers, and ½ a sliced avocado, topped with ½ cup shredded cheese
- A mango-coconut smoothie, made with 1 cup of frozen mango, 1 cup low-fat milk, 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil for a tropical flavored treat
Lunch and dinner ideas: 25–30 g protein and 400–500 calories
- A 3-oz turkey burger topped with sliced tomato, a generous handful of arugula, and a 1 tablespoon of avocado mayonnaise, served on a whole-grain bun
- 1 cup chickpeas, tossed with 1 cup mixed greens, balsamic vinegar, and 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, topped with 1½ oz crumbled feta cheese
- 3 oz smoked salmon, on a whole-wheat bagel smeared with 2 tablespoons cream cheese, topped with sliced tomato and red onion
- A 3-oz lean sirloin steak with roasted asparagus sprinkled with 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and served with 3 roasted rosemary new potatoes
- 3 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast strips, mixed into a spicy ratatouille pasta sauce and served over 1 cup whole-wheat pasta
Snack ideas: 10–20 g protein and approximately 200 calories
- ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with 5 mini whole-wheat crackers and 1 cup carrot sticks for dipping
- A hard-boiled egg served on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato
- 5 oz low-fat Greek yogurt topped with raspberries
- 1 oz almonds with a low-fat mozzarella cheese stick
There’s no need to eat like a caveman or follow a trendy, unsustainable diet to get enough protein. Simply understanding which foods are the best choices and making an effort to spread them throughout the day can keep you in a healthy range, and could even work wonders on your waistline.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.