Think you’re getting enough protein in your diet? Well, you may want to think again — Donald Layman, Ph.D. and professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois, tells Men’s Health that while the recommended daily intake of protein for adults should be around 56 grams, our bodies could use even more than this. Though protein is well known for its ability to help build and repair muscle, its benefits reach far and beyond just muscle tissue. Protein is also known to curb hunger, and it helps to prevent diabetes and heart disease. Even if you’re not looking to build muscle and just want to drop a few pounds, eating plenty of high-protein foods is still of the utmost importance, as it can help preserve lean muscle mass that will help you burn more calories in the long run.
So, how much protein should you be getting? You should be looking at your workout regimen and weight to determine this, though you should also consider that men who work out for 45 minutes to an hour three to five days per week should be consuming .45 grams of protein per pound. This comes down to about 80 grams of protein a day if you’re a man around 180 pounds, though you should calculate less than this if you do not work out as much or you weigh less. Ladies need slightly less, but it really depends on activity level. You should also work to eat high-protein foods throughout the day, as this will continually fuel your muscles and keep your hunger at bay.
Your protein intake is all relative to your lifestyle and your level of fitness, so don’t turn your diet on autopilot and assume you’re getting enough from one protein shake. Though you may already know that fish, chicken, and lean beef are high-protein foods, the following seven ingredients are also contenders.
While there are other beans on the market that also have quite a bit of protein, it is the humble soybean that really gives you the most benefits. FitDay explains how the soybean is the only vegetable to contain all nine amino acids that our bodies require. Amino acids are just a single component of protein, as they are the building blocks for tissue and muscle, and it’s important to get essential amino acids through our food, as our body cannot produce them naturally. Soybeans are so rich in protein that they produce more than two times as much protein per acre than any other vegetable.
One cup of edamame (immature soybeans that are a fantastic snack when steamed) offers 22 grams of protein, a quarter of your daily calcium, and half of your recommended amount of vitamin C and folate, according to Fitness. You can get the benefits of soybeans from many foods such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and miso soup, a Japanese staple made from a fermented soybean paste.
Lentils, according to Eat This, Not That!, contain 18 grams of protein per cup, which is pretty impressive. Even if you’re going for a higher protein goal, lentils are an excellent way to incorporate more protein into your diet, as one cup has the protein amount of three eggs, and they have been shown to speed fat loss due to their high fiber content.
Lentils go well with fish or chicken, two well-known sources of protein. Just simmer your lentils on the stove and serve for dinner with a filet of salmon, and you could be looking at nearly 40 grams of protein in just one meal.
3. Hemp seeds
While hemp seeds may not look like much, they pack a punch when it comes to their protein content. A story on Dr. Oz’s site explains how hemp seeds are full of protein, essential amino acids, and omega-3s. Just one ounce of hemp seeds offers 6 grams of protein, which is very close to the amount of protein in one egg. They are also useful in helping you better absorb nutrients found in dark, leafy greens.
The beauty of hemp seeds is their versatility — you can put a few on top of a salad, in a sandwich, or even over your morning cereal and reap the benefits. Drop a tablespoon in a water bottle full of warm water and lemon for a drink that will hydrate, cleanse, and curb hunger all day long.
4. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
You’ve seen the containers in the dairy section of your grocery store, and if you haven’t picked one up yet, you may want to start — plain Greek yogurt is not only very high in protein, but you’ll find a million ways to use it. Men’s Fitness talks about the benefits of Greek yogurt in terms of its protein content, as it holds 18 grams per 6-ounce container, or 24 grams per cup. Make sure to stray far from the flavored Greek yogurts that are populating the market, however, as these add extra calories and sugar.
Though the most obvious way to eat Greek yogurt would be to add in some granola and fruit, there are other great ways to incorporate it into your diet. Try using it instead of sour cream on a burrito or instead of cream cheese on a bagel, or even combine it with a bit of maple syrup for a lighter and slightly sweet topping to your waffles or French toast.
5. Green peas
Though vegetables are not necessarily renowned for their high protein content, peas are a surprisingly great source, as a cup of peas has eight times as much protein as a cup of spinach. A single cup of peas has eight grams of protein and nearly an entire day’s value of vitamin C, according to Eat This, Not That! Peas are also a lot less starchy than kidney, navy, and lima beans, making them a less carb-filled choice when looking at all of your legume options.
Having a hard time thinking of ways to incorporate peas into your everyday meals? Try adding them into a salad alongside fish, chicken, or beans for added flavor, or even consider making your own hummus with peas, mint, cumin, and tahini for a twist on a classic.
While oats may not be the first food that you consider when thinking about your protein intake, they’re perfect for a quick and healthful breakfast, as they can give you anywhere from 10% to 14% of your recommended amount of daily protein. Livestrong states that processed oats don’t hold nearly as much protein as whole oats, however, so make sure to purchase oats in their rawest form to receive maximum benefits.
A half cup of whole oats holds almost 7 grams of protein. While this is a significant amount, the protein value of the oats does decrease if you choose to eat quick oats or instant oats. Try adding in your oats to breads, smoothies, or even a streusel topping for protein in your dessert.
If you’re looking for the perfect grain to raise your daily protein amount, then look no further. Quinoa is superior to other grains when it comes to protein, with about 8 grams per cooked cup. Quinoa is also particularly great because it’s a complete protein, containing all nine amino acids that benefit your body and must come from food.
Don’t be discouraged by quinoa’s many different varieties, colors, and earthy look — though you should feel free to marry your quinoa with kale and a chicken breast, you can also get creative and add it in a burrito or pancakes. Check out Greatist’s list of 50 interesting ways to eat quinoa for some fresh ideas.