Protein is one of the major nutrients. It provides the body with energy (calories). Your body needs protein to build and repair cells. It is also part of important enzymes and hormones as well as antibodies that support the immune system.
Protein is made of building blocks called amino acids. The human body needs 20 different amino acids to function properly. Some amino acids are made by the body. But 9 of them (the essential amino acids) must come from food. Soy foods and animal sources of protein (milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and seafood) contain all the essential amino acids in the amounts our bodies need.
Most plant foods contain some of the essential amino acids in varying amounts. Beans have some amino acids, and grains have other amino acids. Eating these different types of food throughout the day will provide your body with the protein it needs.
Foods that contain protein
Protein is found in a variety of foods. High-protein foods include lean meat, poultry, and fish. A serving of these foods is 2 to 3 ounces. (3 ounces is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.)
Protein isn't just found in meat. If you are looking for other types of protein, the following foods are equal to about 1 ounce of meat:
- ¼ cup of cooked beans, peas, or lentils
- ¼ cup of tofu (about 2 ounces)
- 2 Tbsp of hummus
- ½ ounce of nuts or seeds (for example, 12 almonds or 7 walnut halves)
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp of peanut butter or other nut or seed butter
Other sources of protein include cheese, milk, and other milk products. You can also buy protein bars, drinks, and powders. Check the nutrition label for the amount of protein in each serving.
Current as of: May 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator