Protein rich foods have always been the hottest thing in the market. The gym goers swear by it and the athletes stick to it religiously. It is certainly the much talked about, and maybe a little-understood component of our meals. This is primarily because of not knowing what constitutes a protein rich meal.
Protein, a macronutrient, which is required in a large amount in comparison to vitamins and minerals, is the vital component of the every cell in the body. It’s important for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood and hair.
Further, protein benefits in – speedy recovery after exercise, reducing muscle loss, building lean muscle, weight maintenance, and satiation.
So, here is a top protein rich food options for Indian diet.
How much protein is good for you?
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is modest 0.8g per kg of body weight. This statistics has been a cause of a lot of confusion. Please note that this is a minimum amount of protein that you need to meet your basic nutritional requirement that is for carrying out basic function. This amounts to just 10% of your total calorie intake, while ideally, you should target 10- 35% of daily calories from protein.
Protein Rich Food Category #1 – Poultry:
Your best bet among the Poultry foods. With less saturated fat (less than 1.5%), chicken is best for building lean muscle. Lean muscle = muscle that is built without any simultaneous fat addition to your body. Chicken breast is also an excellent source of niacin and a good source of choline, selenium, and pantothenic acids.
Interestingly, studies show that organic country chickens have around 30% more omega 3 (good fatty acids) than those specifically bread in poultries and farms!
Pro-eating tips: Dark cuts, such as thighs, tend to be a little higher in calories and fat. Remove the skin, which has higher fat content, before consuming.
A low calorie, low fat and high protein food giving you the most bang for your buck. The egg white is home to half a dozen vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, B6, B12, zinc, iron and copper. The yolk is rich in cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K. Perfect for a solid breakfast.
Pro-eating tips: Eat boiled eggs, and if you are consuming more than 2 eggs, then avoid egg yolk.
Check out a complete Egg based diet here.
Protein Rich Food Category #2 –Meat:
Meat, taken from the hindquarters of beef, though takes time to digest but, is worth the protein inherited. Also, it is the richest natural food containing creatine. Creatine enhances your ability to exert more strength in high-intensity workouts and endurance training. But, you are advised to limit your intake to less than twice a week, given that beef also has high cholesterol.
Pro-eating tips: Cooking methods such as stews, soups and meat pies, which retain the fluid portion, provides the highest protein content.
2. Pork chops:
Meat taken from the ribcage of Pork. Just like steak, you can expect high protein content from Pork. And in addition to protein, it is high in zinc that helps men develop their testosterone hormone. Beware that Pork is relatively high in saturated fat, a type of harmful fat that leads to high cholesterol and an elevated risk of heart disease.
Pro-eating tips: A rule to remember – when it comes to beef, pork or lamb, the leanest meat comes from the loin – sirloin, tenderloin etc. Also, anything that comes shoulder or belly (pork chops) will contain more fat. Trim the edges of pork chops to remove high-fat content around the edges.
Protein Rich Food Category #3 – Sea Food:
1. Tuna Fish:
Researchers heavily favour Seafood when asked for best sources of lean protein. With little fat and cholesterol, they make up an excellent choice for proteins and also a powerhouse of other vitamins (Vitamin A, B, D) and minerals. Besides, there are a lot of delicious recipes in the Indian Cuisine for cooking to anybody’s taste!
Pro-eating tips: When buying tuna steaks, look for those that have been trimmed neatly, with firm, dense red or dark red flesh and a meaty aroma. You should also avoid one with strong discoloration around the bone, or which have dull cast.
Though it is not a predominant Indian food, Salmon deserves a mention solely for its high protein content. Salmon also has Omega 3S, Astaxanthin, Vitamin D and electrolytes, which are good for fitness. It poses olfactory memory (memory of the sense of smell), a reason why this intelligent fish is considered a “brain food”.
Pro-eating tips: Wild salmon have fewer pesticide residues, hence makes it preferred for consumption. Go for fresh salmon – fresh salmon has smooth, moist skin. You should rely on your sense of smell to identify fresh salmon. If you don’t plan to eat fresh salmon within in few days, the store in the refrigerator.
Protein Rich Food Category #4 – Supplements
1. Protein Shakes:
In addition to boosting your protein intake, protein shakes and smoothies help you lose weight by burning calories faster. So you can check out some cool protein shake recipes and flavours with proteins coming from any of these sources – Milk, Whey, Soy, Rice etc. On the flipside, most ready-made protein shakes contain loads of sugar that might not agree well with your nutrition plans.
Pro-eating tips: Follow the instructions on the container to measure out the proper amount of whey protein powder and blend with the recommended portion of liquid and any other ingredients until smooth. You can use fruits and other ingredients to change the flavour and nutritional content.
Check out about protein supplements in details here.
Protein Rich Food Category #5 – Dairy
Cow’s milk and buffalo’s milk is the most preferred source of protein and. We now have a great variety of forms to choose from- skimmed, whole, fat, low fat etc. Taking milk early in the day helps the body to absorb the protein better. But it should not be taken with any other concentrated protein source like meat for reasons concerning digestion. (Milk being liquid and gets digested in the duodenum and not stomach).
Pro-eating tips: Avoid hot milk, it might cause acidity. You can add flavours for taste.
Curd is more of a solid than a liquid product. An essential part of the dry matter of curd is comprised of proteins, but it also contains carbohydrates, fats and minerals. Curd improves digestion, helps boosts immunity, and is healthy for your heart. It’s particularly boon for lactose intolerant.
Pro-eating tips: In the daytime, have curd without sugar, while at night add sugar or some black pepper. It will assist in digestion and calm your digestive system.
Also called Cottage Cheese, paneer is the staple source of protein in most Indian households. Besides tasting delicious, it has great protein content and calcium along with fat-cutting properties. Also it digests and releases energy slowly, not letting the blood sugar level spike.
Pro-eating tips: Avoid frying. You should eat paneer raw or with just sprinkle of black pepper and salt.
Though they are more than 2000 varieties of cheese, all of them are rich in protein. So it’s okay to be a cheese head! Cheese has less carbs unlike milk and curd and makes a good low-carb, high protein food. The only con being that it has high saturated fats that you should guard against.
Pro-eating tips: Soft cheese is better as it has higher water content, thus low calories. Parmigiano Reggiano, low in fat content, is best for you. White Feta, made from goat’s milk, has low-fat content and is good for lactose intolerant people.
Protein Rich Food Category #6 – Pulses & Grains
1. Chana (Chickpeas):
Or White Chana as it is referred to in the Indian households, is a source of high protein for vegetarians. A cup of boiled Chana contains around 260 calories and 13 grams of dietary fibre in addition to 20gm of protein. You can boil and make it into a stew or an important component of your evening salad. Excellent source of potassium and sodium too. Chickpeas also help to decrease risk of heart disease and is good for diabetes.
Pro-eating tips: Always rinse and drain the chickpeas to get rid of most of the sodium before you use them. It’s a good addition to a fresh salad.
2. Rajma (Kidney Beans):
Rajma contains 6 grams of protein for every 100 grams along with 8 other vital amino acids. Another member of the legume family, with origins from Central America and Mexico, kidney beans/ Rajma exists in red, white, cream, black or spotted colours and has antioxidant properties. Slightly boiled Rajma is said to have weight lose properties.
Kidney beans are also an excellent source of molybdenum. They are a very good source of folate, dietary fiber and copper.
Pro-eating tips: While buying kidney beans, always look for any signs of moisture or insect damage. Further, the beans should be whole and not cracked. Avoid canned kidney beans that contain extra salt and additives.
3. Lentils (Dal):
Coming from the family of split pulses, lentils (Masoor dal, Urad dal, Toor dal) have considerably high protein. When dal is combined with rice or wheat (roti), it provides amino acids in the right proportion making it a complete protein like Soybeans. However, studies show that boiling, like in cooked dal and sambar, reduces the protein content to a large extent.
Pro-eating tips: Lentils should be best taken in form of soups, stews and salads. Green lentils are the best choice for salads.
We have three types of Oats- Steel Cut (resembles rice, takes the time to cook), Rolled (flat, steamed, cooks faster) and Instant (completely precooked and dried). No matter which type of Oats you choose, they contain at least 10% protein.
Pro-eating tips: Avoid sweetener such as maple syrup, honey or agave, these sweeteners all count as added sugar. Instead, add sweetness with a spoonful of sugar-free applesauce or banana puree.
5. Barley, Millets:
Another cereal with decent protein content and great variety of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. It is one of the oldest consumed grains. Sprouted barley is high in maltose and fermented barley is made into beer.
Pro-eating tips: First a casual one, do buy millet intended for human consumption, as the millet sold for pet food still has the indigestible outer hull. For Barley – add to your soups and stews to make it healthy. In salads use chilled cooked barley as a dressing.
Germinated seeds are also an excellent alternative to cooked foods and they are no way behind in protein content. Sprouts are easily digestible, regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and keeps your skin healthy. Make sure to properly wash them and clean them before sprouting though.
Pro-eating tips: Wide collection of seeds, legumes, nuts, and grains can be sprouted, so be sure to try all and see which type of sprouts you like the most. The sprouts need to be very fresh, and carefully refrigerated and handled.
7. Hemp Seeds:
Other than being a great protein source, hemp seeds can fight heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome as they’re rich in fibre and omega-3s
Pro-eating tips: Added to any baked food to increase the protein content and fibre.
Chia seeds contain all nine essential amino acids. They go fantastic with smoothies, puddings as they form a gel when combined with water or milk.
Pro-eating tips: Added to any baked food to increase the protein content and fibre.
Protein Rich Food Category #7 – Vegetables
Though spinach is loaded with a lot of minerals especially iron, it is also a source of protein, albeit in little quantity. Instead of taking it as a singular source of protein, you could combine it with other protein rich foods. So next time you have Palak paneer or Palak paratha or Palak chole, don’t hold back!
Pro-eating tips: Fresh, uncooked leaves, washed and packaged may begin to turn black at the edges or along fold lines. Tear off the blackened part and use the remaining leaf.
Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than even meat, although that means you’ll have to eat a lot of it unlike meat. Apart from proteins, it also houses vitamin K and calcium. It is particularly recommended for children, old people and pregnant women.
Pro-eating tips: Look for broccoli with bright green heads. Chose one with compact clusters and firm, strong stems and stalks.
Called the queen of herbs in Ayurveda, it is also considered a good source of plant protein in the vegetable world. It is also rich in vitamin K and potassium. You can try asparagus curries along with your chapattis or rice.
Pro-eating tips: Size isn’t an indicator of asparagus quality. Chose asparagus that has bright green or violet-tinged spears with firm (not limp) stems. Make sure the tips are closed and compact.
It is also called “meat without bones” as it is a vegie packed heavily with protein. Soybeans are the source for both Soy milk and Tofu, and you should properly cook it before consumption (it is poisonous otherwise). In its raw form, Soybean acts as anti-coagulant in the blood and prevents mineral absorption. So it should be boiled, cooked or let sprouted for keeping the risk levels at a minimum.
Pro-eating tips: Look for large beans as they generally contain more protein, which results in a higher yield. However, huge beans do not necessarily mean better tofu. Use the nutrional label to differences between fat and protein content.
We should thank the Chinese for this invention. Soymilk is left to curdle, become coagulated and later compressed into a cake (Tofu), packing around 10 gram of protein per 100 g. It is the only vegie source that rivals the meats in providing all 9 essential amino acids and hence called the complete protein! Tofu’s protein can also be made more digestible if it is fermented.
Pro-eating tips: Good tofu has elasticity (it breaks when it bends) and is more chewy than chalky (chalky tofus are often made with thinner soymilk and more coagulant). Good tofu should be springy and not crumbly.
Check out protein rich vegetarian foods here.
Protein Rich Food Category #8 – Fruits
1. Fruits – Cantaloupe, Avocado, Blackberry, Guava:
If you thought fruits are devoid of proteins, then you are in for a surprise. Guavas lead the pack with 4g of protein (per 100g) closely followed by Avocados, Pomegranate and Cantaloupe (Musk melon). Fruit shakes with milk are a good combination for proteins diets.
Pro-eating tips: The best time to eat a fruit is either first thing in the morning empty stomach, or as a mid-morning snack – in between breakfast and lunch.
Check out this to explore more on how to buy best fruits.
2. Coconut milk:
Milk derived from the grated and squeezed coconut. It has around 2 gm of protein per 100gm of the milk and is used in the preparation of desserts. Highly nutritious in vitamins and minerals, this is a great food to be included in general cooking.
Pro-eating tips: In general, the coconut will have a layer of thicker cream on the top and thinner milk on the bottom. Remove the cream, which has high-fat content. Coconut milk must be refrigerated if not used immediately, as it will spoil otherwise.
Check out more health benefits of Coconut here.
Protein Rich Food Category #9 – Dry Fruits
1. Peanut Butter:
Peanut butter provides muscle-building protein and healthy fats. Don’t assume this butter to be equally risky as other butter. It’s good for your health as it is high in nutrition value, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Pro-eating tips: You can heat peanut butter, and mix with Yoghurt and banana for a perfect post-workout diet.
Cashews (18g), Pista (20 g), Almond (21 g), Peanut (26 g), Walnut (16 g). When you can’t always have a meal, you can have some nuts to supply all the essential proteins and fats. They have high calories per gram and are rich in fibre and antioxidants. Watch out for peanuts if you are allergic though, as a lot of people are.
Pro-eating tips: While organic nuts may be slightly more expensive than their conventional counterparts, the extra cost is definitely worth it.
Check out the benefits of 7 different types of nuts in details here.
Inside the soft, easily digestible flesh, dates hold a mine of nutrients and essential fibre. Each date contains around 0.2 g of protein and no fat or cholesterol. They are an instant source of energy although a large part of the calories come from sugars.
Pro-eating tips: Dates can be wrinkled, but they shouldn’t feel hard. Look for plump looking, glossy skinned dates. Avoid dates that have crystallised sugar on their skins. A little is okay, but the lesser, the better it is.
Protein Myths and FAQ
Do men need more protein than women?
Yes, protein requirement depends on age, gender and sex. Broadly speaking you should take 10%-35% of daily calories intake in form of protein. This roughly translates into 56gm of protein in a day for men and 46 gm of protein for a woman.
Will a high protein diet not let me lose weight?
As per experts, in short, high protein diet helps in weight loss. Protein moves slowly through your digestive system, making you feel full. In addition, your body burns more calories in digesting protein. Protein also keeps the hunger pangs away by keeping your blood sugar level steady.
However, there is no agreement among researchers on long-term effect of high protein, low carb diet. Our suggestion will be to continue with balanced with protein between 10-35%.
Is too much protein unhealthy?
Eating more protein generally is not an issue, however, it might lead you to consume more calories, which can lead to weight gain. Also, some protein rich foods have high saturated fats, leading to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Should women avoid soy protein?
There is no danger of eating soy. In fact, eating soy can even lower the chances of breast cancer. Soy protein, which is low-fat options instead of high-fat, animal-based protein.
Can I take protein infrequently instead of daily?
Our bodies don’t store protein the way they store carbs and fats. Hence, you should consume protein consume daily.
How to check if I am not eating enough protein?
Strict vegetarians, vegans, and older people should know the signs of too little protein – recent weight loss, tired muscle, and drop in muscle strength.