Protein is one macronutrient that needs to be a priority in your diet if you are trying to boost your health.

If you are focused on feeling satisfied after eating a meal, supporting your muscle growth, helping your body have strong bones, and powering your immune health, then protein needs to be a part of your plate. Sure, carbohydrates and healthy fats play important roles when it comes to supporting our overall health and wellness. But protein plays so many key roles in the human body that eating enough should be a priority.

In fact, studies have shown that higher-protein diets are linked to a slew of benefits, like promoting weight management, helping manage blood sugars and increasing the body's ability to absorb calcium, ultimately supporting bone health.

In a nutshell, getting enough protein in your diet is critical when it comes to supporting your overall health and wellness.

What Is Protein?

If you have ever been on a diet or spoken to somebody about nutrition, then you have surely heard the word protein before. But while many people know that protein is important, they may not know what it actually is.

The proteins that we eat are made up of different amino acids. And these amino acids are what the body uses for various functions, from forming certain hormones to building specific proteins within the body. So, when the body digests the whole protein that we get from our juicy hamburger or from a hearty lentil soup, the amino acids that made up that protein are absorbed and used by cells for a multitude of functions.

There are 20 amino acids that make up proteins, and each one is categorized as essential, nonessential or conditional:

  • Nonessential amino acids are the ones our body can make (and it is not essential that they are included in the diet).
  • Essential amino acids are the ones that our body can't make, and therefore they need to be obtained via the diet.
  • Conditional amino acids are considered to be essential in times of illness and stress. So their classification of being essential is conditional.

Regardless of whether a person is a carnivore or following a vegan lifestyle (or they are somewhere in between), it is entirely possible to get all of the essential amino acids that the body needs, as long as they are choosing the right foods.

What Can Protein Do For You?

When people think of protein, thoughts of bodybuilders who are trying to sculpt the perfect muscles may come to mind. But protein is so much more than a weightlifter's BFF. Protein, or rather the amino acids that make up protein, plays a slew of important roles in the body, including:

In other words, you must include protein in your diet if you are trying to support your overall health and wellness.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

While protein is such an important nutrient to eat, that doesn't mean that you should be eating loads and loads of the stuff every single day. The amount of protein you need depends on a few factors, including your weight, age, sex and health status.

Generally speaking, most healthy adults require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. This equates to around 55 grams per day for a sedentary man of average weight and 45 grams per day for a sedentary woman of average weight. Protein needs may increase due to various factors, including whether a person is extremely physically active, whether they are pregnant or lactating, or if they are recovering from certain injuries or surgeries.

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8 Best High-Protein Foods

Protein is found in many of the foods that you are likely already enjoying. And while this macro can be found in smaller quantities in foods like vegetables and rice, there are other foods that are serious protein providers and can fuel your body with this key nutrient when they're included in an overall healthy diet.

To help narrow down your food choices, here are 8 of the best protein-containing foods for you to enjoy.

1. Lean Beef

= 22 grams protein per 3-ounce serving of 93%-lean ground beef

Including beef in your diet not only provides your body with high-quality protein, but it also fuels your body with key nutrients like zinc (which plays a role in immunity) and iron (which shuttles oxygen through your body). For a satisfying dish that contains beef, try a Skillet Steak with Mushroom Sauce or a cozy Slow-Cooker Beef Stew.

2. Chicken

= 27 grams protein per 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast

As a versatile dinner staple that is in many people's rotation, chicken packs a punch in the protein department. A simple Baked Lemon Pepper Chicken or Creamy Parmesan Garlic Mushroom Chicken recipe can be an easy weeknight dinner that includes this important nutrient in a delicious way.

3. Salmon

= 19 grams protein per 3-ounce serving

Salmon may be known for its healthy fats that support heart health, but this food contains a hefty portion of protein too. Try Honey-Garlic Salmon or Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon to help get some healthy protein in your diet.

4. Eggs

= 6 grams protein per 1 large egg

Eating eggs is a convenient way to sneak in some high-quality protein. You can enjoy them scrambled or hard-boiled, or include them in recipes like Spanish Eggs and Egg Salad.

5. Peanut Butter

= 7 grams protein per 2 tablespoons

For a plant-based protein source that is loved by many, natural peanut butter is the way to go. You can enjoy it in a classic PBJ, use it as an ingredient in a Peanut Dressing, or you can whip up some Peanut Butter Energy Balls for a quick nosh while on the go. Similarly, other nut butters and seed butters also provide protein.

6. Pasta

= 6 grams protein per 1 cup cooked penne

Pasta may be thought of as a carb source, but a 2-ounce serving of classic semolina pasta provides almost as much protein as one large egg! Top your pasta with some Quick Meat Sauce or enjoy a dish of Italian Sausage & Kale Pasta for even more protein per bite.

7. Cottage Cheese

= 12 grams protein per 1/2-cup serving

Creamy cottage cheese is a natural source of protein that is easy to include in a healthy diet. And using it in recipes like Creamy Spinach Dip and Florentine Lasagna Roll-Ups helps keep the protein content high without the need to add any meat.

8. Lentils

= 18 grams protein per 1 cup cooked lentils

For the ultimate plant-based protein, turn to hearty lentils. Not only are they loaded with this key macro, but they are packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. From a cozy Vegan Lentil Soup to a Lentil Bowl with Fried Eggs & Greens, enjoying lentils can be a delicious way to get protein into your diet.