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What are high protein foods?

High protein foods: image shows plate of food
(Image credit: Getty)

We all know that a daily dose of protein is vital, and high protein foods are essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, keeping up your energy levels, and improving your metabolism. Whether you're trying to lose weight, build more muscle at the gym, or simply feel your best, getting enough protein is crucial for a balanced, healthy lifestyle. But what are high protein foods that you can add to your diet to make sure you're getting enough every day?

We've done some research to bring you the ultimate guide to high protein foods. We'll discuss the importance of protein, some of the best high protein foods, and how to determine how much protein you actually need. If you're still struggling to get enough protein into your diet through foods, you can always try our guide to the best protein powder, and enjoy a drink in the best protein shaker. The best protein bars can also be handy for a protein boost on-the-go.

If you want to learn more about which foods contain high levels of protein, let's get into it.

Why is eating high protein foods important?

Do we really need to eat high protein foods? Well, the short answer is, yes. Protein is a macronutrient that is responsible for building muscle mass. It's an essential building block in the human body. Without it, our bodies can't grow or repair.

Protein helps you maintain a healthy appetite

Several studies have shown that protein plays an important role in keeping hunger at a healthy level. One 2004 study by the American College of Nutrition showed that of the three macronutrients -- protein, fat, and carbohydrates - protein is the most filling, leaving you feeling more satisfied.

Another 2006 study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that protein reduced levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, while simultaneously increasinging levels of peptide YY, which makes the body feel full.

In other words, eating more protein can help you feel more full after a meal, so that you don't run the risk of overeating.

Protein helps you build muscle 

Protein is vital for building and maintaining muscle, hence the reason why so many dedicated gym-goers choose to take protein powder.

As a 2012 International Society of Sports Nutrition study showed, adding additional protein to your diet can help you to build more muscle at the gym. And, a 2010 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study found that increasing protein intake can even help you maintain muscle mass when you're trying to lose weight.

Protein increases your metabolism 

A slow metabolism means that your body isn't very efficient at breaking down the food you eat. If you want to improve your body's digestion rate, protein can help.

One 2010 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a high protein diet resulted in a higher rate of fat oxidation, meaning that the diet helped people to burn (or metabolize) more fat than other types of diets.

High protein foods to integrate into your diet

It's pretty clear that a high protein diet can have plenty of benefits. So, what are high protein foods that you can add to your favorite recipes to start getting all of the benefits? 

high protein foods: image shows egg and avocado toast

(Image credit: Getty)
  • Eggs
  • Oats
  • Greek yogurt
  • Chicken
  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Salmon
  • Cauliflower
  • Beef
  • Guava
  • Quinoa
  • Avocado

Can you eat too much protein?

While a high protein diet certainly has plenty of benefits, a healthy diet is ultimately about balance. If you are thinking about increasing your protein intake, it's important that you don't overdo it. While some additional protein can help you build muscle and lose weight, too much protein can have adverse side effects.

Eating too much protein can lead to:

  • Weight gain. As one 2016 study by Clinical Nutrition found, high protein diets can, in the long term, be associated with weight gain and cardiovascular problems. 
  • Digestive issues. Eating more protein than your body needs can sometimes lead to a variety of digestive issues in the long term, as protein is naturally harder to digest than fats and carbs, according to a study by ISRN Nutrition. You may experience cramps, constipation, diarrhea, or bloating. 
  • Kidney problems. Too much protein can also affect your kidney health. As a 2020 PubMed study showed, eating too much protein can lead to a condition known as kidney hyperfiltration. However, plant-based proteins tend to be less damaging. 
  • Bad breath. According to a 2011 press release from Vital Record, high protein diets lead to excess amino acid in the body that can give the breath a bad odor. In the long term, it can also lead to dental issues. 
  • Risk of cancer. A 2014 Forbes study of people aged 50-65 found that people who ate high-protein diets were four more times likely to die of cancer. The same study found that even moderate protein diets were associated with a higher risk of cancer-related death.  

The recommended amount of protein changes from person to person depending on weight, height, and lifestyle factors. There are numerous online protein calculators that will help you get a better sense of how much protein you need.

High protein foods: in summary

Protein is one of key macronutrients that our bodies need in order to function normally. By adding some additional protein to your diet, you can increase your muscle mass, improve your appetite levels, and support general muscle strength and health. By simply adding a few more high protein foods, such as chicken, salmon, or almonds, to your diet, you will probably begin to notice the benefits.

However, too much protein can also lead to some negative side effects. Try to always eat a balanced diet that includes all of the essential food groups. If you're worried you're not getting enough protein, or that you're getting too much, we always recommend speaking to your doctor or nutritionist, so that you can create the perfect diet plan for your specific needs and goals.

Meg Walters
Meg Walters

Meg Walters is a freelance journalist and features writer. Raised in Canada and based in South East London, Meg covers culture, entertainment, lifestyle, and health. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, i-D, Refinery29, Stylist, GQ, Shondaland, Healthline, HelloGiggles and other publications.
When she's not writing, Meg is probably daydreaming about traveling the world, re-watching an old rom-com with a glass of wine, or wasting time on Twitter, where you can follow her @wordsbymeg.