Whether or not you subsist on a ribs-and-burgers diet, or live a vegan lifestyle and carefully balance your vegetable proteins, chances are you need more, especially if you want rapid weight loss.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for men is 56 grams a day, while for women it’s 46 grams. That’s about as much as you’d get in 4 to 5 chicken drumsticks or two large hamburgers. Other ways to reach near those numbers: 2 ½ pork chops, 15 slices of bacon, or an 8-ounce steak.
But that’s still not enough: In a 2015 study in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that those who ate twice as much protein as the Recommended Daily Allowance had greater net protein balance and muscle protein synthesis—in other words, it was easier for them to maintain and build muscle, and hence keep their metabolisms revving on high. So even if you eat a burger for lunch and a couple of pork chops for dinner, you’re still coming up short in the protein department. To help you reach your fitness and weight-loss goals, the researchers behind Zero Belly Cookbook uncovered and ranked these 30 best high-protein foods for metabolism. And to get your stomach supertight, don’t miss these 30 Foods That Melt Love Handles!
2 grams per 1.25 Tbsp
What doesn’t wheatgrass offer for a mere 30 calories? Even a tiny dose like this packs fiber, protein, tons of vitamin A and K, folic acid, manganese, iodine, and chlorophyll, to name a few. You don’t need to know what each nutrient does for you; just know that a single tablespoon will have you operating at peak performance levels. So even if the protein count is low, you’ll last longer at the gym.
2 g per fruit
Plenty of studies have shown that grapefruit stands alone as a particularly powerful weight-loss food. One study in the Journal of Medical Food found that people who ate half a fresh grapefruit a day lost 3 ½ pounds in 12 weeks despite making no changes in diet or exercise. And pair it with green tea, as part of the 17-Day Green Tea Diet. Its metabolism-boosting compounds, called catechins, increase metabolism and speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy. Blast fat in record time on Eat This, Not That!’s brand-new THE 17-DAY GREEN TEA DIET! Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds!
2 grams per 2 Tbsp
You may think of flax for its fiber content and rich omega-3 fatty acid profile, but flax is actually a potent protein source as well. Two tablespoons gives you 2 grams of muscle-building protein as well as 4 grams of metabolism-enhancing fiber. Blend some into these essential protein shake recipes.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 g per 2 Tbsp
Mix some cocoa powder into your smoothie for a boost of more than just flavor. In addition to delivering a gram of protein for every 12 calories, it will also give you 4 grams of fat-burning fiber and 20% of your daily value for the essential muscle-making mineral manganese.
2.5 grams per ½ cup
The big, blue, gnarly looking squash that shows up every autumn harbors a secret stash of metabolism-boosting protein. The seeds alone deliver 8 grams of protein per ¼ cup once you’ve roasted and salted them, but the squash meat itself will supply another few grams. Spice it up with cinnamon and serve it as an alternative to sweet potatoes. And blast even more fat with these 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast!
2.5g per falafel
They look like runaway crabcakes from a cocktail party, but falafels are little balls of chickpeas and herbs that deliver a gram of protein for every 25 calories.
2.5 grams per ½ cup
Like pomegranate, passion fruit delivers a surprising dose of protein thanks to its edible seeds; a half cup also gives you 12 grams of fiber and more than half a day’s vitamin C. They’ll boost your metabolism—and speaking of, don’t fall prey to these 25 Things You’re Doing to Slow Your Metabolism!
3 grams per ½ cup
Like all legumes, peas are great sources of protein. But you can get an additional boost from sweet peas, the kind that come in their own edible pods (also known as mange tout). Eat them raw or steam them and top with a dab of butter and some sea salt, or use them in these soup recipes. You’ll get a gram of protein for every 15 calories you consume.
3.3 grams per serving
This bitter cousin to your bland, boring broccoli has one of the highest protein-per-calorie ratios in the plant world: 1 gram of protein for every 8.7 calories. A serving will give you 3.3 grams for just 28 calories—that’s more protein than a spoonful of peanut butter.
4 grams per fruit
High in healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados, one of the essential superfoods, also deliver a surprising dose of protein. Another reason to make guacamole your go-to appetizer.
4 grams per serving
You may know about the protein packing power of Portabella mushrooms because they show up in place of burgers at some restaurants. But most mushrooms deliver about 4 grams of protein per serving, for less than 40 calories. They’re also a great source of selenium, a mineral that’s essential for proper muscle function.
5 grams per ½ cup (cooked)
This ancient grain saddles you with less than 5 grams of carbs for every gram of protein, about what you’ll get from its more highly publicized cousin, quinoa. Spelt and amaranth deliver similar benefits. Just make sure you’re not eating one of these 22 Worst Carbs in America!
5 grams per fruit
You may not think of fruit when you think of protein, but pomegranates stand out as protein powerhouses. The reason: The protein is stored in the seeds of the fruit. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Pom Wonderful will give you the same benefits—it’s full of sugars.
Japanese Soba Noodles
5.8g per cup, cooked
For a mere 113 calories per cup, soba noodles slip you a nice bit of protein for a relatively low 24 grams of carbs.
6 grams per 1 cup serving
In addition to its 4 grams of belly-filling fiber, a cup of oatmeal delivers as much protein as an egg. Start every morning with one of these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes!
6 g each
Two-thirds of the egg’s protein is in the white, but don’t skip the yolk: Egg yolks are the single best dietary source of the B vitamin choline, an essential nutrient used in the construction of all the body’s cell membranes. Choline deficiency is linked directly to the genes that cause visceral fat accumulation, particularly in the liver. Yet according to a 2015 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only a small percentage of all Americans eat daily diets that meet the U.S. Institute of Medicine’s Adequate Intake of 425 mg for women and 550 mg for men. Eggs are a key part of Zero Belly Diet and the new Zero Belly Cookbook. Test panelists lost up to 16 pounds in 14 days!
6 grams per ½ cup serving
Perhaps the very best thing you can dip a chip into, hummus delivers a gram of protein for each 36 calories. Made from chickpeas and olive oil, it’s as healthy as a food can get.
6 grams per ½ cup cooked
They may be French, but green beans will keep you lean with a solid gram of vegetable protein for every 18 calories you consume. And blast fat faster with these killer 40 Ways to Lose 4 Inches of Body Fat!
6.5 grams per ¼ cup
All nuts are high in protein, but pistachios may have additional metabolic powers, making them one of the best-ever high protein snacks. A brand new study by scientists in India looked at 60 middle-aged men who were at risk for diabetes and heart disease. They gave the two groups similar diets, except that one of these groups got 20 percent of their daily calories from pistachios. The group that ate the pistachios had smaller waists at the end of the study period; their cholesterol score dropped by an average of 15 points, and their blood sugar numbers improved as well.
8 grams per tablespoon
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s typically dried and sold in powdered form, although you can also buy spirulina flakes and tablets. Dried spirulina is about 60 percent protein and, like quinoa, it’s a complete protein, meaning it can be converted directly into muscle in the body. A tablespoon delivers 8 grams of metabolism-boosting protein for just 43 calories, plus half a day’s allotment of vitamin B12. It’s a great option if a blended vegan protein isn’t available.
9 grams per ¼ cup
The king nut when it comes to protein is the humble peanut, when you want to lose belly fat. In fact, it tops pecans (2.5 grams), cashews (5 grams) and even almonds (8 grams) in the protein power rankings. Peanuts are also terrific sources of the mood-boosting vitamin folate.
10 grams per ¾ cup
Think of beans as little weight-loss pills, and enjoy them whenever you’d like. One study found that people who ate ¾ cup of beans daily weighed 6.6 pounds less than those who didn’t, even though the bean eater consumed, on average, 199 more calories per day. Part of the reason is that fiber—from beans and whole grains—helps our bodies (okay, actually the bacteria in our bodies) produce a substance called butyrate, which deactivates the genes that cause insulin insensitivity. Want more? Don’t miss these 50 Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss—Ranked!
10 grams per ¼ cup uncooked
Once known as Forbidden Rice because only emperors were allowed to eat it, black rice is one of the hottest new food trends, and for good reason. It’s higher in protein and fiber than its cousin, brown rice.
12.5 grams per ½ cup
Rye is the grain they make pumpernickel from, but it’s also an oft-neglected superfood. Try substituting it for rice (though you’ll need to cook it longer) for a super-potent vegetarian protein side dish, and sprinkle with chia seeds for an extra boost.
14 grams per serving
Traditional wheat pasta is a pretty solid protein player, with 7 grams per serving. But upgrade to Banza pasta, made with chickpeas, and you’ll double that number, while also enjoying 8 grams of fiber and only about half the carbs of your average pasta dinner.
16 grams per ½ cup
Mas macho than its softer cousin, tofu (which can lead to man boobs), tempeh is made from soy beans, rather than soy milk. As a result, it’s closer to a whole food, and keeps more of its protein, about 50% more than tofu.
Vegan Protein Powder
15 to 20 grams per scoop
More and more research is showing that when we add plant proteins to our diets, our bodies respond by shedding fat. In a 2015 study in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation, researchers discovered that patients who ingested higher amounts of vegetable protein were far less susceptible to metabolic syndrome (a disease that ought to be renamed “diabolic syndrome”—it’s basically a combination of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and obesity). That means eating whole foods from vegetables—and supplementing with vegan protein powder—is one of the best ways to keep extra weight at bay. A second study in Nutrition Journal found that “plant protein intakes may play a role in preventing obesity.” Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake, Vega Sport Performance Protein, and Sunwarrior Warrior Blend are three we love—find 150+ delicious recipes in Zero Belly Cookbook.
22 grams per 3 oz fillet
Often overlooked in favor of its two closest nutritional competitors, tuna and salmon, halibut is a delicious, firm-meat white fish with a very low level of contaminates. It delivers a gram of protein for every 4.5 calories. Snapper, perch and cod are also high-protein fish. (And they’re helpful when trying to get your, um, fish to swim upstream. Read on for the 30 Best Proteins for Your Penis.)
26 grams per 3 oz serving
Mightier than its cousin the chicken breast (which delivers a mere 16 grams for the same serving size), turkey is protein potentate of poultry.
Slow-Roasted Pork Loin
28 grams per 3 oz serving
Pork and beef run about neck-and-neck when it comes to protein. But what we love about pork loin is that it cooks so nicely in a slow cooker, barbecued on low heat, or roasted in the oven—methods you should use more often. When you cook meat at high temperatures, and that includes beef, pork, fish, or poultry, chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced. According to a study in Nutrition Journal, increased intake of HCAs causes changes to our gut microbiota that increase our risk to colorectal cancer. Consider slow cookers or long, languid barbecues the healthier alternative to pan-frying or grilling. Now that you know what to eat, keep the fat burn going with these essential 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism!