Sources Of Protein: Where Can You Get Protein From?
Protein is an essential nutrient and a vital part of our diet. It’s the building block for nearly every function in our body, from building tissues to repairing muscle to producing hormones.
That’s why it is so important we meet our daily protein requirements. But which foods are great sources of protein?
If you’re looking to increase your protein intake to help meet your requirements and see the benefits from a protein-rich diet, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll be looking at all different types of protein sources, including for vegetarian and vegan diets. Find out more below.
How much protein do you need?
We all know that protein is important. But how much protein do you need?
For each person, this is different. However, for most people, a daily protein intake of 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight is recommended, depending on your individual needs.
You can use this to calculate how much you need to consume each day using a combination of protein sources. For some people, such as weightlifters or endurance athletes, nearly twice this much may be recommended. Recommended protein intake can also vary between women and men.
You can find out more about how much protein you need, as well as what happens if you have too much or too little protein in your diet, in our in-depth ‘What Is Protein And Why It Is Important’ guide.
Great protein sources: where to look for your protein
There are lots of different sources you can get your protein from in a variety of foods, especially if you follow a regular diet.
Here are some great sources of protein:
- Lean poultry like chicken and turkey are great sources of protein, as well as being low in fat. Both types of meat are very versatile, meaning you can add them to lots of different dishes to increase your protein intake.
- Lean meats such as beef, lamb, pork and kangaroo are all high in protein as well as iron and other vital nutrients. However, you need to be careful when choosing these meats, ensuring that you’re going for lean cuts with little visible fat.
- Eggs — particularly egg whites — are very rich in protein. Eggs are not only a great source of high-quality protein, they are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
- Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese contain plenty of protein as well as important nutrients like calcium and potassium. If you want low-fat versions, then aim for reduced-fat milk, Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese.
- Fish and seafood are good sources of protein. Opt for tuna, salmon and sardines for fish that are rich in protein as well as healthy omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to seafood, try eating prawns, crab and lobster which are all packed with protein and antioxidants.
- Beans and pulses like kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are affordable protein sources that can be used to bulk up meals and boost your protein intake. It also has the added benefit of being from plant-based sources.
- Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein if you’re on the move or need a convenient source of protein and a boost of energy between meals. Almonds, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all great to snack on — but bear in mind the quantity as they are also high in fat.
A healthy and varied diet will incorporate all of these protein sources.
Sources of protein for vegetarians
Many people tend to associate protein with eating lots of lean cuts of red meat or turkey.
But while it is true that protein is easily obtained through meat, cutting out food groups like meat and fish doesn’t automatically mean that you won’t hit your protein requirements. As you can see from the protein sources list above, protein doesn’t have to come from meat or fish, and it is more than possible to get all of the protein you need from a vegetarian diet.
If you are a vegetarian, you can still get your daily protein intake from other sources, such as eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt. These are valuable protein sources for vegetarians, and can easily be added to meals or snacks.
You can also use pulses like beans, lentils and chickpeas to bulk up meals and act as a meat substitute. All of these are high in protein — as are grains like oats, wild rice and quinoa. In fact, quinoa is one of the few plant-based sources of protein that is classed as a ‘complete’ protein (which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our body needs).
On top of that, there is plenty of fruit and veg you can add volume to your diet, as well as get a range of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre.
Vegetarian protein sources aren’t hard to find or add to your diet — you just need to make sure you eat a wide variety of them to ensure you get all of the amino acids your body needs to keep building and repairing.
Vegan protein sources
If you follow a vegan diet, it can be more difficult to reach your daily protein intake.
This is because meat and animal products are typically much higher in protein, making it easier to hit protein goals if you are a meat-eater. Animal protein sources (like beef, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy) also contain all of the essential amino acids our body needs. These sources are referred to as ‘complete’ proteins.
On the other hand, plant protein sources (like fruit, vegetables, pulses, grain, nuts and seeds) normally lack at least one of these essential amino acids, if not more. They are therefore known as ‘incomplete’ proteins.
As well as hitting our recommended protein intake, we also need to have all of these essential amino acids in our diet so that our body can function effectively. This is why including a wide range of protein sources in your diet is so important, especially if you are vegan.
The good news? A well-planned vegan diet can give you all of the nutrients you need, and there are some great plant sources of protein out there.
In particular, soy-based products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame and tempeh are great additions to any plant-based diet. These are all complete sources of protein, containing all of the nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa, which we mentioned above, is another great complete protein to add to your diet. And although other grains, pulses and vegetables don’t count as complete plant-based protein sources, they are still valuable as part of a varied diet.
Some vegans like to use nutritional yeast as part of their diet. Nutritional yeast is a complete protein source that can be added to all sorts of dishes (it has a sort of cheesy taste, and can be added to pasta, mash and tofu).
If you’re following a plant-based diet, it is completely possible to use vegan protein sources to get all of your protein — you just need to eat a varied diet to ensure you are getting everything you need.
It is worth bearing in mind that you will also need to make sure you’re getting enough calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Some people choose to use fortified versions of soy milk or nutritional yeast which add these in. Talk to a healthcare professional to ensure that you are meeting all of your nutritional requirements or if nutritional supplements are recommended.
Alternative protein sources
Some people aren’t able to get all of the protein they need to reach their recommended daily protein intake from food.
This could be for a number of reasons, such as if they are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or if they are a bit older (older people tend not to eat as much protein as they need). Some people may need higher levels of protein, such as endurance athletes, teenagers or people who are pregnant.
If you aren’t able to get enough protein in your diet from the food that you eat, there are alternative protein sources that you can lean on.
These alternative protein sources can come in a range of different forms, such as shakes, nutritional supplement drinks, protein powder, protein bars and sometimes, tablets or capsules. Protein powders are a popular protein supplement that you can use as an effective alternative protein source.
Powdered products can be added to water or milk to make a protein-rich drink or added to snacks and meals to boost their nutritional value. When used as part of a varied, healthy and balanced diet, these nutritional supplements can provide a good source of protein to help supplement your intake.