Eating certain healthy proteins can help you meet your nutritional needs in a delicious way.

Protein is known to be the ultimate macronutrient for muscle repair, immune support, healthy weight management and more. And including it in your diet every day is incredibly important for supporting your overall health. It is recommended that most Americans consume around 0.8 grams of protein per each kilogram of body weight, although this amount can vary based on the individual. This would equate to a 150-pound person needing approximately 55 grams of protein each day.

So, what can you eat to make sure you are getting enough protein? No matter whether you consume animal products or not, you can choose from a wide variety of protein sources that can be included in an overall balanced and healthy diet to help you meet your protein needs.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three macros that plays incredibly important roles in the body. But unlike carbohydrates and fat, protein is made of amino acids, aka the building blocks of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein.

These amino acids are used to break down food, provide energy for the body, build muscle and much more. And not having enough protein in the diet, and in turn not having enough amino acids in the body, can result in muscle loss, a weaker immune system and even weaker bones in some cases.

Essential vs. Nonessential Amino Acids

Before we dig into which protein sources should be a regular part of your diet, it is important to understand the difference between essential and nonessential amino acids.

There are 20 amino acids found in protein sources. Nine are "essential," meaning that your body can't make them, and therefore it is essential that people consume them from their diet. Nonessential amino acids are those that the body can produce, making it not essential to consume them (though adequate protein consumption can help fill in any gaps). Not all protein sources contain all 20 amino acids—some contain a combo of some essential and nonessential amino acids. This is one reason why having a varied diet is important. By eating different protein sources, you are more likely to consume all of the essential amino acids you need while meeting your overall protein needs.

Greek Grilled Salmon Kebabs with Tzatziki & Green Beans

8 Proteins to Eat Every Week, According to a Dietitian 

Protein foods come in many forms, from animal-based to plant-based options. Among the many choices out there, here are eight protein choices to eat every week that are nutrient-dense, delicious and versatile.

1. Pistachios

Pistachios are a popular snack nut that is also a great source of protein, with 6 grams per 1-ounce serving, and they provide all nine essential amino acids. Plus, about 90% of the fats found in pistachios are unsaturated, 1 ounce has more fiber than a cup of broccoli (3 grams of fiber) and they're a good source of vitamin B6, phosphorus, thiamin and copper.

And when it comes to antioxidants, pistachios provide a significant amount. A new study published in the journal Nutrients found that pistachios have an antioxidant capacity that rivals other popular antioxidant-containing foods, including blueberries, pomegranates, cherries and red wine.

2. Eggs

Eggs are a convenient protein source that is chock-full of important nutrients, including choline, iodine and vitamin D. One large egg contains 6 grams of protein, and enjoying an egg can be as simple as scrambling it in a pan. But eggs are versatile and can help create flavorful recipes like our Spinach & Pea Carbonara or Spinach, Mushroom, & Egg Casserole, too.

Eggs contain high-quality protein with all of the essential amino acids. And nearly half of the egg's protein is in the yolk, so be sure to eat the whole thing.

3. Lentils

Pulses like lentils are nutritional powerhouses that pack a serious punch when it comes to their health benefits. They are rich in important nutrients, including fiber, protein, folate, potassium and iron.

With 9 grams of protein per half-cup serving, lentils offer a filling alternative to animal proteins. Lentils and other pulses make a perfect complement to cereal grains, as together they provide a complete essential amino acid profile. Due to their high nutrient density, lentils and other pulses (like chickpeas or black beans) can be considered both as a protein and a vegetable

Vegan Lentil Soup and a Quick Lentil Salmon Salad are delicious dishes that highlight lentils.

4. Chicken

As the most popular meat consumed in the U.S., chicken is a staple in many homes. From a Classic Chicken Soup to a nostalgic Chicken Waldorf Salad, there is no shortage of ways that people enjoy this protein source. Both dark- and white-meat chicken contain vitamin B12 and choline, which together may promote brain development, help the nervous system function properly and aid cognitive performance in older adults. And a 3-ounce serving provides a whopping 26 grams of protein.

5. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt can have all three macros, depending on the type you choose, and has an especially impressive amount of protein compared to other types of yogurt. According to the USDA, a small container of Greek yogurt (7 ounces) contains 20 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids.

You can use plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream or mayo, as a protein source in smoothies (like in this Pineapple Green Smoothie) or in a simple snack like Greek Yogurt with Strawberries.

6. Fish

Regularly eating fish is linked to a slew of health benefits, including cardiovascular, neurocognitive and psychological. However, 90% of Americans don't meet the recommendation to eat seafood—which includes fish and shellfish—at least twice a week. Fish, especially oily, cold-water fish (like salmon or tuna), is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for everything from your heart to your brain.

One 3-ounce serving of salmon contains 22 grams of protein. And enjoying it in dishes like Grilled Salmon Kebabs with Tzatziki & Green Beans makes it delicious, too.

7. Quinoa

Quinoa is often thought of as a carb-rich food, but this grain is also a great plant-based source of protein, and it contains all of the essential amino acids.

One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein, and it is also packed with fiber and antioxidants. Our Broccoli & Quinoa Casserole or Cheesy Black Bean & Quinoa Skillet are two delicious dishes that showcase the nutritious grain.

8. Tofu

Tofu is made from soy, which is naturally high in protein. It's convenient to cook, inexpensive and a popular choice for plant-based eaters and meat-eaters alike. Tofu is also rich in calcium and copper, and boasts 22 grams of protein per half-cup serving. Try it in a stir-fry, salad, soup or even a smoothie.