5 Healthiest Proteins to Include in a Diet Plan


WHY IT’S HEALTHY: Salmon may have more calories than some other proteins, but those calories are packed with nutrients. Along with 19 grams of protein (38% of the daily value), a 3-ounce serving of cooked wild Atlantic salmon has 2198 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA. These fats may lower your risk of heart disease, support brain health, and fight inflammation. 55 Heart-healthy omega-3 fats Vitamin D and potassium A low-mercury seafood choice. 

DID YOU KNOW? The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least 8 ounces of seafood a week, but fewer than one in five Americans do.

HOW TO INCLUDE IT Fresh salmon steaks or fillets can be grilled or baked without adding fat, since they already have natural oils. You can easily add teriyaki sauce, lemon juice and pepper, or any light marinade. Canned salmon is another healthy option that you can use instead of tuna.

ALTERNATIVES You can get DHA and EPA from other fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, herring, and anchovies. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or you do not like seafood, you can get omega-3 fats from a few plant-based sources, such as flaxseed and walnuts. Just be aware that the omega-3 fats from plant-based foods are not DHA and EPA, and your body can only make a limited amount of EPA and DHA. So, you might want to consider a DPA/EPA supplement if you do not eat seafood.


HOW TO INCLUDE IT Your imagination is your limit when it comes to beans. Try navy bean soup, garbanzo beans or kidney beans in salads, hummus made with garbanzo beans or pureed cannellini or white beans, pinto or black beans in burritos, and bean burgers. Snack on roasted beans. Choose low-sodium canned beans, or use dried beans that you soak overnight and cook yourself.

ALTERNATIVES Other legumes have similar nutritional profiles as beans, so feel free to try lentils and dried peas such as split peas and yellow peas. Soy products, such as tofu and edamame, are also great choices.




Bone-building calcium

Low-calorie, filling option

Low-lactose dairy option

HOW TO INCLUDE IT Don’t get stuck in a yogurt rut! You can have it alone, sweet, or savory at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack time. Try whole grain cereal, fruit, and/or nuts mixed into yogurt, or use it as a dip with dill or other herbs for cucumbers, bell peppers, and other vegetables. You can also cook with yogurt, using it as a base for a sauce for roasted chicken, fish, or vegetables. Choose plain non-fat regular or Greek yogurt, and check the ingredients list of flavored yogurts to avoid added sugars such as sugar, honey, and corn syrup.

ALTERNATIVES Dairy alternatives such as soy yogurt can provide probiotics; just be sure to check for live and active cultures on the label. Almond and coconut yogurt can also have probiotics, but they may be lower in protein.


Fiber and phytosterols

Linked to lower weight

HOW TO INCLUDE IT: Use chopped peanuts in Asian inspired recipes such as chicken and peanut lettuce wraps or Szechuan chicken or tofu with peanuts, or sprinkle chopped peanuts on salads, on fruit, or into cereal. Peanut butter is higher in protein, although lower in fiber, and it is a good companion for veggies, apples, oatmeal, and bananas. If you opt for peanut butter, go for an all-natural choice to avoid artery-clogging hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

ALTERNATIVES If you are on a paleo diet or do not like peanuts, almonds are a great option. They are similar in fat, protein, and fiber content. Other nuts, such as pistachios, walnuts, macadamias, and cashews are also healthy; they may have slightly different amounts of protein and fat than peanuts and almonds.


WHY IT’S HEALTHY You get 7 grams of protein (14% of the daily value) in 2 whites. Egg whites are not the protein source with the widest range of nutrients, but we chose them because of their weight loss potential. Each large white has only 17 calories, and whites are fat-free and carb-free. Basically, they are pure protein, so you can add them into whatever meal or snack you are having whenever you need a protein boost to satisfy hunger and keep blood sugar in check. Chicken and turkey breast are also great choices, but egg whites won out because of their vegetarian nature and smaller impact on the environment. Low-calorie protein source Great weight loss choice Versatile for any meal or snack

HOW TO INCLUDE IT Make scrambled egg whites or egg white omelets with any combo of veggies, cheese, and lean protein, and serve them on a plate or in a whole-grain wrap or English muffin. Have hard-boiled egg whites as a snack, mixed into green salads, or in egg salad made with non-fat yogurt instead of mayo. If you do not like separating eggs or you feel bad throwing away so many yolks, opt for liquid egg substitute instead.

ALTERNATIVES Choose your egg alternative based on what you need it for. Try tofu instead of eggs in a breakfast scramble, add a vegetarian sausage patty to your breakfast wrap, or mix beans or chicken instead of a hard-boiled egg into your salad. For a portable snack, grab a string cheese stick instead of a hardboiled egg. If you love the yolks, rest assured that the occasional yolk will do you no harm, so feel free to use the entire egg.

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Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

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