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Top 7 Healthiest Sources of Protein

26th June 2017 by Jess

It's not just the quantity of protein that's important - it's the quality! Our nutritionist Jess explains how to balance protein with carbs and healthy fats throughout the day, and lists her favourite protein sources.

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Just like fat and carbohydrates, protein is a macronutrient (meaning that your body needs relatively large amounts). But unlike with fat and carbs, your body doesn’t store usable protein. Your amino acids stores are constantly used and must be replenished.

One of the main issues with our Western diet is that most of our breakfasts and lunches are low in protein but high in carbohydrates, leaving protein for the evening meal. It's actually better to aim to spread your protein intake out throughout the day and consciously include a protein source (vegetarian or meat) in every meal.

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the best sources of protein

There are plenty of great sources of protein, the key is variety.

Many proteins contain carbohydrates or healthy fats, for this reason I've grouped them into protein + carbohydrate or protein + healthy fat. This should be accounted for when you’re looking at keeping your meals balanced and also when you’re thinking about your overall intake of carbohydrates and healthy fats throughout the day.

protein sources

Mostly protein

  • Fish: salmon, tuna ,cod, mackerel, herring, sardines etc.
  • Meat: chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, pork
  • Eggs
  • Yoghurts: typically dairy or soy bean based
  • Spirulina
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Quality protein powder supplements: whey, brown rice, pea, sprouted rice, hemp protein
  • Vegetarian foods: vegetarian burgers, cheese, sausages, hot dogs

protein + carbohydrate

  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Beans: pinto, navy beans, black eyes peas, chickpeas, kidney beans etc.
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Whole grain products
  • Gluten-free pasta: brown rice, millet, etc.
  • Bean pasta

protein + healthy fats

  • Seeds: chia, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp
  • Nuts: almonds, cashews, pecan, brazil, pistachio
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
eggs avocado on toast 1

eggs

Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high quality protein. The whites are rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B2, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. Egg yolks contain more calories and fat but they are also a source of essential fat, soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

A medium egg has around 6g of protein along with the mentioned healthy fats. They are so easy to cook and you can enjoy them in so many forms, from egg muffins, scrambled eggs, a simple breakfast omelette with some spinach and mushrooms through to scrambled eggs or poached egg on sourdough toast.

Enjoying eggs first thing is a great way to start the day. It can be a handy snack too if you pre-boil a load and store them in the fridge.

avocado & poached eggs on toasted sourdough
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nuts

Nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pistachios are a practical protein choice if you’re on the move. Around 20 shelled walnuts or 50 pistachio nuts will provide 6g of protein, plus lots of other essential nutrients such as potassium, copper, manganese and vitamin E.

1/4 cup nuts = around 7-9g protein

Nuts sprinkled onto a bowl of porridge makes for a great breakfast or speedy snack, perfect post lunch or pre dinner!

shop protein nuts & seeds

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seeds

Seeds are nutrient powerhouses! They are abundant in minerals, especially copper and manganese. They also contain essential fats and protein so they really are an all round super star ingredient!

1/4 cup seeds = around 7-9g protein
2 tablespoons chia seeds= 4g protein

You can sprinkle them into your breakfast muesli, into your smoothies, have them solo as a snack, add them to your lunchtime salad or enjoy them with dinner for an added crunch to any meal - in soups, salads, stir fries.

quick & easy fresh salad jar

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beans and pulses

These are great, value-for-money protein sources. Beans and pulses are also a good source of iron and fibre and they contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.

1 cup cooked beans = around 15g protein

Chickpeas can be blended up with tahini, lemon and olive oil to make hummus, or kidney beans can be added into your weekly chilli con carne.

Here in the graze kitchen we love to include wholesome, naturally protein-rich ingredients in our protein snacks, like edamame beans, broad beans, black beans and chickpeas.

DIY baked beans

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protein-packed vegetarian chili 5

lentils

Lentils are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in protein and fibre and contain good amounts of other nutrients such as copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron and vitamin B1.

1 cup cooked lentils = 18g protein

They’re so easy to put into casseroles, soups and curries to bulk them out and they’re a very inexpensive ingredient to include in one’s diet.

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chicken and turkey

When it comes to animal protein, white poultry such as chicken and turkey offers great lean protein. Just one 150g breast of chicken or turkey gives you around 30-35g protein and it’s very low in fat so it’s a great one to include in the diet if you’re looking to up the protein.

It can be grilled, roasted, stir-fried or pulled with so many different herbs and spices added to fit into whichever flavour dish you’re going for.

vietnamese gơi thịt wraps
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fish and seafood

Fish and seafood are good sources of protein and are typically low in fat. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce joint stiffness and inflammation.

cornmeal & chia seed crusted tilapia

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By Jess, graze nutritionist.

Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to Jess's blog at jessipes.co.uk for even more.

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