15 High-Protein Foods that Could Help Support Your Health and Weight-Loss Goals (2023)

Other sources of protein

15 High-Protein Foods that Could Help Support Your Health and Weight-Loss Goals (1)

While most of us can hit our protein goals through whole-food sources, there are some scenarios where protein powders or other protein-enriched foods can be useful. People starting an intense endurance- or strength-training program, recovering from surgery, or dealing with other health issues may need to boost their protein intake, says London. In these situations, be sure to talk with your health care provider to create a personalized nutrition plan.

That said, there may also be more in-the-moment times where you need some extra help on the protein front. On busy mornings where you barely have time to brush your teeth let alone cook breakfast, WW’s protein-packed lattes can be a great solution. Each 8-oz can provides 11 g of protein (from milk and milk protein isolate) and 20% of the Daily Value for calcium—making them convenient and nutritious breakfast additions. Ultimately, all foods are on the menu and WW members should do what works for them, which could include using a protein powder or protein-enhanced drinks, says Goscilo.

High-protein foods and weight loss

High-protein foods can be helpful when it comes to weight loss because of protein’s effect on satiety, i.e., how full and satisfied you feel after eating. Research suggests that protein is the most filling macronutrient, followed by carbs and then fat. Plus, the body uses more calories to digest protein: “It takes more work to break protein into smaller amino acids that can be absorbed,” Goscilo explains. While additional research is needed to determine exactly how this process helps you feel fuller, longer, it does. That means you may be less likely to eat between meals.

Ultimately, there’s no ideal macronutrient profile for weight loss, but eating protein-rich foods may also help preserve muscle mass during your weight-loss journey. Muscle is lost on most weight-loss programs; however, according to a 2013 study, higher protein intake helps preserve lean body mass. Research also suggests that it may be better for muscle health to consume a moderate amount of protein at each meal throughout the day rather than packing the entire goal amount into one.

Popular high-protein diets

In the average diet of an otherwise healthy person, protein can account for 10–35% of daily calories, according to the Institute of Medicine. This wide range means there’s conflicting opinions on what exactly constitutes a high-protein diet. However, the upper limit of protein intake is more clear: A 2006 review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism defines excessive protein intake as anything above 35% of daily calories, and suggests it could lead to potential health risks like increased insulin levels, digestion issues, and more. The same study links a plan where 25% of calories come from protein to weight loss—without potential risks of overconsumption.

The majority of protein-focused diets are also low-carb, and weight-loss plans touting the benefits of this approach have been around for decades. (The Atkins diet, for instance, was first developed in the 1960s.) While the recommended carb amounts differ, they typically call for eating less than 45–65% of daily calories from carbohydrates. Research has found low-carb diets effective for weight loss, but since these plans can be restrictive, people may find them difficult to adhere to long-term. Plus, a 2012 clinical trial published in Physiology & Behavior found that the success of these programs depends on the high-protein element, not the low-carb one.

Here’s the lowdown on other popular high-protein diet plans:

  • Ketogenic diet: Also known as “keto,” this program is often grouped in with high-protein diets, but it’s actually more of a high-fat diet. The standard ketogenic diet recommends 70% calories come from fat, 20% from protein, and 10% from carbs.
  • Paleo diet: This plan takes inspiration from our prehistoric ancestors and relies on foods presumed to be available during the Stone Age. You’ll get protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Fruit, vegetables, and herbs are allowed, but the diet nixes other protein-rich foods like dairy, grains, beans, and legumes.
  • Zone Diet: Originally developed to reduce inflammation, this program recommends that you get 30% of daily calories from protein, 40% from carbs, and 30% from fats.
  • Carnivore diet: Like its name suggests, this diet instructs you to eat only animal products. Meat, poultry, eggs, and certain dairy products are permitted, but that’s where the list ends. Unlike the other plans that recommend a lower carb intake, this one (backed by no scientific studies) aims for zero carbs.

How you build your plate on any high-protein diet is critical since some of the more restrictive eating plans could have negative health implications. For instance, opt for protein-rich foods that are too high in fat, and you may experience nausea, diarrhea, and other unpleasant side effects. On the other hand, replace too many nutrient- and fiber-rich foods (like fruit, veggies, and whole-grains) with high-protein ones in an effort to limit carbs and you could deal with constipation or micronutrient deficiencies.

“Any attempt to omit entire food groups or limit intake of a specific food group or category of nutrients comes at the cost of your long-term health,” London says. “An approach to weight loss that, by design, limits your intake of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet like veggies and fruit can come with adverse physiological and biochemical side effects, which may make losing and maintaining weight even more difficult.”

The bottom line: Are you eating enough high-protein foods?

In this case, the better question might be are you eating enough types of protein-rich foods? After all, according to a 2018 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, most adults exceed the recommended intake of protein—consuming an average of 88 grams a day. As we said before, there’s no one-size-fits-all recommended protein intake. But for comparison, most women need around 46 grams of protein per day, and men need 56 grams, according to the USDA’s recent dietary guidelines. You may be getting enough of the macronutrient, not all sources are created equal—proteins can be lean or high in saturated fats.

Case in point: The amount of protein in a pork chop and piece of salmon are similar, but the pork has more than three times the saturated fat. Similarly, beef and certain cheeses are typically higher in saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and have been linked to increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Current guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat intake, but that doesn’t mean you have to revamp your entire eating style. Instead, consider incorporating more healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) found in nuts, seeds, and seafood to your diet.

Fats can be part of a healthy pattern of eating, along with various protein sources. It’s all about finding a balance, London says. Try adding more plant-based and lean protein sources into your diet by designating one meatless meal a day, swapping ground beef for turkey or chicken the next time you make chili, or opting for seafood a couple nights a week.

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Nicole Saporita is a senior content manager for consumer wellness at WW. A writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York, she specializes in health & wellness, lifestyle, consumer products, and more. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Prevention, and REDBOOK magazines.

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