They might be humble in size, but being packed with healthy fats, minerals, and essential vitamins means the mighty egg can easily anchor a breakfast, liven up a frisee salad for lunch, and slide on top of a burger for dinner. And its impressive 6 grams of lean protein make it an exemplary food for those who want to get bikini-ready for summer.
That’s because eating protein-rich foods helps to boost your metabolism, prolong feelings of fullness, and maintain muscle mass to help your body scorch fat. One study found that women who ate a high-protein afternoon snack had lower levels of hunger and ate less at their next meal than those who ate an equal-calorie, low-protein snack.
Although immensely versatile, eggs aren’t the only way you can boost muscle mass and blast fat. In fact, there are a number of unsung (and some surprising) superfoods that pack even more protein than an egg. To even the playing field, we made sure to keep everything to a reasonable, single serving. Fit these foods into your diet, pair with a few sweat sessions a week, and you’ll be saying goodbye to those pesky hunger pangs—and your love handles. For more info about one of our favorite macronutrients, don’t miss our exclusive report, The Ultimate Protein Guide.
Protein, per 2 tablespoons: 6.3 grams
Compared to the arguably more popular chia seeds, hemp hearts are lower in calories and higher in protein per tablespoon. Each seed also comes packed with heart-healthy, alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3. Studies suggest that hemp seeds can help fight heart disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, likely because they’re rich in fiber and omega-3s. You can eat them straight from the bag, sprinkle a handful on salads, in your morning oatmeal, or your post-workout smoothie. Find them in your local health food store or grab a bag online from retailer Manitoba Harvest.
Protein, per ½ cup: 6.6 grams
These steamed soybeans make a great snack to throw in your gym bag. That’s because they’re one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, which means they provide all essential amino acids—including the branched chain amino acids that aid in muscle building. Not to mention, they’re also a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that plays a role in energy production, carb metabolism, and lean muscle development. If you want to get more bang for your buck, grab some tempeh. Fermented from soybeans, this Indonesian product packs in a whopping 21 grams of protein in a half a cup serving.
Protein, per ½ cup (cooked): 7 grams
Commonly eaten in Asian countries, these beans are tender in texture while sweet and nutty in flavor. If their protein content (a whopping 24 percent per gram) didn’t impress you, maybe the fact that they’re high in potassium, iron, and fiber will. What’s more, unlike many other legumes, mung beans retain most of their high levels of vitamin C even after they’re boiled. Add boiled mung beans to salads to boost flavor without piling on extra calories or sodium.
Protein, per ½ cup (cooked): 7.3 grams
These little beige bullets are a weight-loss superfood. High in nutrients and gut-protecting, anti-inflammatory soluble fibers, chickpeas are a flat-belly weapon, which can boost feelings of satiety by releasing an appetite-suppressing hormone called cholecystokinin. Don’t get stuck in a hummus rut; check out these surprising ways to use chickpeas to continue watching the pounds melt off.
Mozzarella & Cheddar
Protein, per 1 oz: Mozzarella, 6.3 grams; Cheddar, 6.5 grams
These staple cheeses are one of the reasons why so many pizza-loving Americans meet their protein requirements every day. Not only are cheeses a great source of satiating proteins, but they’re also teeming with healthy fats, calcium, and vitamin D to help support bone maintenance in old age.
Protein, per ½ cup (cooked): 7.3 grams
All beans may be good for your heart, but black beans also boost your brainpower. That’s because they’re full of anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that have been shown to protect against cell-damaging free radicals to help improve brain function. That same 1/2-cup serving will serve up an equal amount of soluble and insoluble fiber. Wrap black beans in a spicy breakfast burrito or puree them into a hummus-like dip. These pulses are a great source of resistant starch.
Protein, per ½ cup (cooked): 7.6 grams
You may have known beans were a great source of fiber, but you may not have understood the extent to which kidney beans meet this expectation. In fact, these red beans provide a whopping 14 grams—that’s more than three servings of oatmeal! For that reason, these pulses can be considered an effective blood-sugar control pill as its unique resistant-starch fibers take longer to digest, making it a very “low glycemic” carbohydrate that helps prevent blood sugar spikes. A recent study found diabetics who ate one cup of beans every day for 3 months saw better improvements in fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, and even body weight than a group who ate one cup of equally-fibrous, whole-wheat products.
Peanut Butter & Peanuts
Protein, per ounce (peanuts): 7 grams
Protein, per 2 tablespoons (peanut butter): 8 grams
If you choose the right kind, a two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter added to your smoothie, a piece of whole grain toast, or tossed with cold noodles will serve up a healthy dose of muscle-building protein and healthy fats. Consuming peanuts can help prevent both cardiovascular and coronary artery disease—the most common type of heart condition—according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Protein, per 1 cup: 8 grams
This South American ancient grain is unique in its protein source in that it qualifies as a “complete protein.” That means it contains all essential amino acids—including the muscle-promoting L-arginine—an impressive feat for a plant-based source. Quinoa also packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and is also a great source of fiber, a nutrient that can help you feel fuller, longer. Give quinoa bowls a try or pair a scoop of the ancient grain with veggies, beans, or a salad to create a well-balanced meal.
Protein, per 1 oz: 8 grams
Here’s an excuse for indulging in that wine-and-cheese hour: This fancy Swiss cheese contains 30 percent more protein than an egg in a single slice, plus a third of your RDA of eye-protecting vitamin A. This nutty cheese pairs well with crackers, and can also add flavor to spinach quiches or a potato gratin.
Protein, per cup: 8 grams
This Italian wheat grain has a similar taste to like brown rice, but with a pleasantly chewier texture and nutty, almost licorice-like flavor. Toby Amidor, MS, RD, tells us, “Farro is brimming with antioxidant vitamins A and E and minerals like magnesium and iron.” Discover more of The Best Iron Rich Foods—And Why You Need Them!
2% Organic, Grass-Fed Milk
Protein, per 8-oz cup: 8 grams
You probably knew milk was a rich source of protein but did you know you should always be looking for organic milk? Organically-raised cows aren’t given the same inflammatory hormones and antibiotics that conventional cows are, and grass-fed cows have been shown to have higher levels of omega-3s and two to five times more lean muscle-building CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than their corn- and grain-fed counterparts. Although skim milk is low-cal, many of the essential vitamins milk serves up are fat-soluble, which means you’re cheating yourself out of their benefits unless you opt for at least 1 percent.
Sprouted Whole-Grain Breads
Protein, per 2 slices: 8 grams
Not all breads are the refined, white carb bombs that will shatter your weight loss goals. This nutrient-dense bread is loaded with the brain-protecting B Vitamin, folate, and good-for-you grains and seeds like barley and millet. What’s more, because it’s sprouted, the grains, seeds, and legumes have been pre-digested and removed of their anti-nutrients, giving you an easily digestible bread teeming with even more nutrients.
Protein, per ½ cup (cooked): 9 grams
Like all pulses, these little half-moon-shaped legumes are filled with fiber that helps speed fat loss: Spanish researchers found that people whose diets included four weekly servings of legumes lost more weight and improved their cholesterol more than people who didn’t. Add green lentils to salads, and sub red lentils for chicken in curry.
Protein, per 1 cup cooked: 9.4 grams
This nutrient-packed seed was a staple of the Incan diet. The grain-like seeds (like quinoa, it’s known as a pseudocereal) have a mild, nutty taste. And as for nutritional profile, gram for gram, few grains can compete with amaranth. That’s because it’s higher in fiber and protein than wheat and brown rice, loaded with vitamins, and has been shown to help lower blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol. Add it to granola, boil it up like oatmeal, or cook it up like rice: toss with grilled veggies as a bed for chicken, or with almonds, apples, and goat cheese for a waist-whittling salad.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 9.75 grams
Lisa Moskovitz, RD, says teff may be the new quinoa: “It’s a more complete amino acid-packed protein than quinoa itself,” she says. “That makes it great for anyone who wants to keep calories low and protein high.” And the benefits don’t stop there. Teff is “also a good source of fiber, in addition to containing 30 percent of your daily value of blood-pumping iron.” With more fiber and more protein comes great appetite control. Like all grains, teff can be made into a porridge or cooked like a risotto.
Protein, per 1 cup (cooked): 9.8 grams
Use this ancient grain in place of quinoa for a protein boost. It’s high in energy-boosting, muscle-protecting minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron, along with 21 grams of fiber per cup. Bonus: A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating kamut reduces cholesterol, blood sugar, and cytokines, which cause inflammation throughout the body.
Protein, per 1 oz: 9 grams
Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds contain energy-boosting magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. That also means pumpkin seeds will help give you glowing skin. Skin cells rely on zinc to make the proteins that repair damaged tissues and regenerate new ones. Throw them on salads and rice dishes or eat them raw in cereal.
Protein, per 1 cup: 10.7 grams
Yet another grain that’s teeming with muscle-building protein. Spelt is a grain related to wheat, but it’s packed with more fiber and, obviously, more protein.
Protein, per ounce: 9-12 grams
Jerky isn’t the gas-station junk food you once knew. Just a quick glance at some of these best jerkies, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Because they’re cured and dehydrated, gram for gram, jerky is one of the most protein-dense foods you can find. So when you need metabolism-revving, hunger-satisfying protein after a workout or a healthy snack on the road, beef jerky is a great go-to. When picking a jerky, make sure it has fewer than 400 mg of sodium and 5 grams of sugar per serving. And, as always, scope out brands which source from grass-fed, organic beef to reap the extra nutritive benefits.
Protein, per 2 oz: 14 grams
This delicious pulse pasta is made with chickpeas instead of white, refined flour. As a result, it has double the protein and 25 percent fewer carbs than traditional noodles. Even without being enriched, it packs 8 grams of gut-friendly fiber and 30 percent of your iron RDA per serving. Cook and eat the same way you’d enjoy traditional pastas. This simple swap will save you nearly 100 calories per serving.
2% Greek Yogurt
Protein, per 7 oz: 20 grams
If you’re looking to lose weight and build fat-fighting muscle, yogurt will be your waistline’s best friend. Besides the satiating power of its protein and fat, yogurt is also one of the best sources of gut-friendly probiotics. A study printed in the Journal of Nutrition found that probiotics, like those found in yogurt, helped obese women lose nearly twice as much weight as those who did not consume probiotics. Choose wisely, though. Skip over low-fat and fat-free versions that are skimmed of nutrients and satiating power, as well as flavored yogurts, which can contain almost as much sugar as a dessert. Choose a brand from our exclusive guide, 25 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.
Protein, per 3 ounces: 24 grams (Anchovies); 22 grams (Tuna, Salmon, Halibut, and Snapper); 21 grams (Flounder, Sole, Sardines); 20 grams (Shrimp & Cod)
More commonly touted for their anti-inflammatory, brain-protecting, and weight-managing omega-3s, fish is one of the tried-and-true, low-calorie ways to get protein into your diet. Find out which fish you should be grabbing from the monger in our exclusive report, Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits!. You’ll be surprised to see where some of your favorites rank.
Protein, per 3 ounces: 26 grams (Turkey breast); 16 grams (Chicken breast); 9 grams (Chicken thigh)
Poultry is one of the best sources of animal-based protein because it’s much leaner and lower in gut-harming saturated fats. Chicken is by far one of the most popular sources because it’s immensely affordable, easy to prepare, and lower in fat than many other types of meat. Do away with boring grilled chicken breasts and try out one of these 35 Best-Ever Chicken Recipes.
Protein, per 3 ounces: 19-31 grams (Beef); 23-25 grams (Pork); 8.6 grams (3 slices bacon)
Red meat is one of the most traditional sources of protein besides an egg. Opt for grass-fed beef when you’re at the store—it’s more nutrient-dense than its conventionally-fed counterpart.