6 Easy Sources of Protein You Might Be Overlooking and Shouldn't
Put these energizing and filling high-protein foods on your next shopping list.
Have you seen the recent headlines about canned tuna losing its popularity? This high-quality, convenient form of protein has seen sales drop by 40% in recent years, according to the USDA. Apparently, this is largely due to millennials not buying it, because they favor fresher fare.
If you also prefer to pass on canned tuna, you may be looking for alternative high-protein foods that are quick, easy, and versatile. Here are six you're probably not eating often enough, plus simple ways to incorporate them into balanced meals.
In addition to canned and frozen options, you can purchase steamed, ready-to-eat lentils in the produce section of many markets. A one cup portion provides roughly 18 grams of protein, along with 16 grams of filling fiber (over 60% of your daily target), and a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. For a meal in minutes, toss a generous handful of leafy greens with a dressing made from balsamic vinegar, stone ground mustard, and Italian herb seasoning. Top with lentils, a quarter of an avocado, and a few tablespoons of pumpkin seeds.
Pea protein burgers
While I always prefer whole foods over anything processed, I am a big fan of burgers made from pea protein, which is derived from yellow split peas. In addition to pea protein being naturally gluten-free and not a common allergen, it’s easy to find pea burgers made with whole food ingredients. One patty can provide at least 25 grams of protein. I use them in a number of ways, including crumbled on salads, in stir-frys, and rolled up in collard wraps with chopped veggies and vinegar-based slaw. I also love them whole, placed between lettuce leaves, along with tomato, onion and avocado, served with air fries.
While hard-boiled eggs are super easy to make, you can also purchase them pre-cooked. Each whole egg provides about 6 grams of protein. Plus, newer research shows that the cholesterol in eggs, which is entirely found in the yolk, has little if any negative impact on blood cholesterol. In fact, one study found that in healthy adults, up to three whole eggs per day increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowered “bad” LDL. The yolk also contains the bulk of an egg’s nutrients, packing at least 90% or all of the choline, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Add hard-boiled eggs to salads for an instant protein boost. I also love to chop a few, and toss with spinach, tomatoes, red onion, celery, and bell pepper, and a small scoop of cooked, chilled quinoa, dressed with half of a mashed avocado.
Plant protein powder
Here’s another processed food that can be made with simple, clean ingredients and used in a wide variety of ways. One scoop of plant protein powder can provide at least 20 grams of protein, with little carbs and fat. In addition to being whipped into smoothies, plain, unflavored plant protein powder can be added to bolster the protein content of oatmeal and overnight oats, banana pancakes, savory soups, and cauliflower mash.
If you don’t own a can opener, as apparently is the case for many millennials, look for beans sold in shelf-stable, tear-open boxes. One cup of organic vegetarian baked beans contains roughly 12 grams each of protein and fiber. For a quick meal, serve beans with steamed frozen broccoli tossed with jarred dairy-free pesto. Or pair them with a fresh garden salad dressed with an EVOO-based balsamic vinaigrette.
Both plant-based and dairy-based grass-fed Greek yogurts can be good sources of ready-to-eat protein. Depending on the brand, one individual container of a plant-based variety provides 11-14 grams of protein. The great thing about plain Greek yogurt is you can enjoy it either sweet or savory. For a sweet version add fresh fruit, nuts or seeds, a drizzle of maple syrup, a dash of cinnamon, and a sprinkle of fresh-grated ginger. For a savory option, add garlic, fresh dill, red wine vinegar, sea salt, and black pepper, then toss with veggies like sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and a bit of red onion.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.