Looking for a simple ideal protein food list? Protein is a highly debated topic in the health/nutrition/fitness realm. It’s a macronutrient, which means it’s one of the main nutrients we need in larger quantities that provides us with energy. The other two macronutrients are fat and carbohydrates.
Since it’s important, I put together an ideal protein food list for optimal health. But before we get to that, let’s get into more detail. Why do we need protein, how much do we need, and where should we get it? You may be surprised to find out what are actually ideal protein products and what you might want to avoid.
Why We Need Protein
Protein is essential for humans because it helps build, maintain, and repair the body’s tissues. It is also necessary for the production of enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein helps build muscles, bones, skin, hair, and nails. It is also important for the immune system too because it helps the body to fight infection and disease.
The Best Source of Protein
Plant-based proteins are generally healthier than animal proteins because most don’t contain any saturated fat or cholesterol and they’re higher in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Plant-based proteins are also free from hormones and antibiotics, which are usually present in animal proteins. This is all probably contrary to what you’re used to hearing or maybe even what you believe, but keep reading to find out why it might be time to rethink your position.
Is Animal Protein Really Superior to Plant Protein?
Our health and fitness culture has a huge problem with looking at individual nutrients instead of the package they come in. Meat may be high in protein, but that doesn’t inherently make it healthy. It’s also high in saturated fat, which is a huge risk factor for heart disease and dementia. Plant proteins, on the other hand, also contain protein, but they do not contain harmful saturated fat and they contain many other beneficial nutrients while meat is lacking in a variety of nutrients.
One of the reasons protein is important is because of the amino acids it contains. A common argument from meat eaters is that plant protein is inferior because you can’t get all of your essential amino acids from plants. It’s true that plant proteins are typically higher in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, while animal proteins tend to have more complete essential amino acid profiles. Plants contain the amino acids but on less optimal levels. Not non-existent, not insufficient, just not the most optimal for the ridiculously high protein diets you are led to believe you need.
Look at this quote from a review in the National Library of Medicine:
“The claim that certain plant foods are “missing” specific amino acids is demonstrably false. All plant foods contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 indispensable amino acids . Importantly, rather than “missing” indispensable amino acids, a more accurate statement would be that the amino acid distribution profile is less optimal in plant foods than in animal foods. Lysine is present in much lower than optimal proportions for human needs in grains, and similarly the sulfur containing amino acids (methionine and cysteine) are proportionally very slightly lower in legumes than would be optimal for human needs.
This would be important for someone who ate only rice or only beans, for sustenance, every day. This classic implementation of a protein quality assessment framework focusing on isolated single proteins remains an erroneous approach in practice [36,37]. The terms “complete” and “incomplete” are misleading [33,38]. In developed countries, plant proteins are mixed, especially in vegetarian diets, and total intake of protein tends to greatly exceed requirement. This results in intakes of all 20 amino acids that are more than sufficient to cover requirements.”
So in short, yes, it is possible and even easy to get all essential amino acids from plants. And since plant whole foods are packaged with many other essential nutrients and health benefits, they take the superior protein source title without doubt.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
Next to arguing the best sources of protein, how much protein we need is the next most highly debated protein question. A high protein diet is regularly sought out in America. But studies show that too much of any kind of protein can have negative effects on your health. Excess protein can put a strain on your kidneys, leading to dehydration, increased risk of kidney stones, and other health issues.
A high-protein diet can also lead to an unbalanced diet, in theory, because if you’re eating more and more protein, you’ll naturally eat less and less of other foods containing different essential nutrients. An unbalanced diet can cause deficiencies in other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The fitness industry has majorly capitalized on protein. That’s because it is true that it’s required in the body, it does aid in recovery and construction of muscle mass. It’s easy to manipulate the facts on how much you need. Also, it’s incredibly cheap to produce, but of course, they don’t sell it to you for a very low price. The protein supplement market was a 6.26 billion dollar market is 2021 and it expected to continue to grow at a rapid rate. Is that because we all so desperately need protein? Nope, it’s because we over-consume protein. We’re brainwashed into thinking that we need more and more to look better, feel better, have energy, and other just plain false ideas.
What do the experts say?
There are plenty of different opinions about who the “experts” are. My criteria for considering someone an expert is not just their list of credentials. The most important thing to me is that they have both extensively studied and considered the most natural form of medicine that the good Lord created, which is food. Those medical professionals who have dedicated their lives to the science of nutrition and who have fought against nutrition misinformation publicly and on a large scale.
Dr. Michael Greger
Dr. Greger is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. He is a founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book How Not To Die. He is a board-certified physician specializing in clinical nutrition. He is the host of the popular NutritionFacts.org website, and his videos and research have been viewed over 100 million times.
Dr. Greger says the average sedentary adult needs about 0.36 to 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. He recommends that people who are physically active should aim for the higher end of this range. Dr. Greger emphasizes that protein should not be the focus of our diet. He instead recommends that we get our protein from a variety of plant-based sources. He also recommends reducing the amount of animal-based protein, such as red and processed meats, in our diets. He believes that focusing on whole plant foods is the best way to ensure optimal health and longevity.
Dr. Colin T. Campbell
Dr. Campbell is a nutritional biochemist, professor emeritus at Cornell University, and author of the bestselling book The China Study which highlights the most comprehensive, large nutrition study that has ever been conducted to study the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease. He is best known for that groundbreaking research on the link between nutrition and chronic diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. He has also conducted extensive research on the effects of animal protein on health and the environment.
Dr.Campbell recommends eating between 0.5 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. This amount is based on the latest scientific research and is the amount of protein needed for optimal health and performance. Dr. Campbell believes that the emphasis put on protein consumption is far too high. He believes that a diet rich in plant foods can provide all of the necessary nutrients and protein that the body needs. He also believes, based on his extensive research, that the overconsumption of animal proteins can lead to health problems and should be minimized.
Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Barnard is a physician, researcher, author, and the founding president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He is known for his work in nutrition, advocating for plant-based diets and preventive medicine. He is the author of several nutrition related books. He has also hosted two PBS television programs, Dr. Barnard’s Food for Life and Dr. Neal Barnard’s Reversing Diabetes.
Dr. Barnard does not specify an exact amount of grams of protein per day. However, he recommends that adults consume 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein sources. He believes that most people in the United States consume far more protein than is necessary for good health. And he says that the emphasis on protein consumption has been overstated and that there is a greater need to focus on eating whole, plant-based foods.
Healthcare professionals in general
Healthcare professionals in general recommend a reasonable amount of protein in your diet, even if they don’t all agree on the best sources of protein. SCL Health wrote, “According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. That means that the average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should eat about 46 grams.”
Which Protein Source is Healthiest?
According to a review of two very large and long studies, [85,013 women and 46,329 men from the Nurses’ Health Study (1980–2012) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986–2012)], among many other studies which have shown similar results:
“Higher animal protein intake was positively, whereas plant protein was inversely, associated with mortality, especially among individuals with at least one lifestyle risk factors. Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, was associated with lower mortality, suggesting the importance of protein source.”
Animal protein is widely considered to be an essential part of a balanced diet. It’s often seen as a primary source of essential nutrients such as protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, many recent studies conducted in nutrition science have revealed that animal protein can actually be quite unhealthy.
Here are some of the reasons why animal protein may be detrimental to your health:
1. Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease:
Studies have shown that diets high in animal protein can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. This is because animal protein is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Both of which can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and eventually to cardiovascular disease.
2. Increased Risk of Dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Bright Focus Foundation, a research foundation dedicated providing scientific information for Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma, “In a study of more than 1,200 people, researchers show that individuals with higher levels of saturated fats in their blood are more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.”
2. Higher Risk of Cancer:
Animal protein is also linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. The World Health Organization has classified processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages, as a group 1 carcinogen. That means that there is sufficient evidence to link them to an increased risk of cancer.
3. Lower Nutrient Density:
Animal protein is generally low in essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy body and consuming animal protein does not provide the same nutrient density as plant-based proteins.
An article in The Journal of the American Heart Association states, “In substitution analysis, substituting of animal protein with plant protein was associated with a lower risk of all‐cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and dementia mortality, and substitution of total red meat, eggs, or dairy products with nuts was associated with a lower risk of all‐cause mortality.”
Which Protein Source is Best for Weight Loss?
I would say 8 out of 10 times I talk to women about diet and weight loss, they want to know what the ideal protein supplements are for weight loss. It’s ingrained in our minds from marketing and the fitness industry that health = protein. And we do need protein for health, but again, refer back to how much protein you really need. My answer to these women asking what protein supplements are best is usually, none. You do not need a protein supplement. Unless, of course, you aren’t eating a balanced diet.
We already know which protein is better for our health, but which is better for weight loss? When it comes to trying to reach a weight loss goal, there is a clear winner. Plant-based proteins are generally lower in calories and fat than animal proteins, making them an ideal choice for weight loss. Plant proteins also provide fiber and other nutrients that help fill you up faster and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Basically, you can eat a larger volume of plants because they are lower in calories, especially calories from fat, and they keep you full longer. Have you ever heard “eat more and stay full longer” in any weight loss diet plan that contains animal products? So skip the low-carb diet program, skip that ketogenic diet plan, skip all the restrictive diet plans!
If you want an ideal protein weight loss protocol, here it is: eat more plants and less animal products. The ideal protein weight loss method is to consume plant based protein instead of animal protein. This is done without focusing on protein specifically, but instead a well balanced plant based diet overall. Plant based whole protein is the best choice you can make for both your weight loss and your health.
Do I Have to Remove Animal Products From My Diet to be Healthy or Lose Weight?
There are varying degrees to which you can implement a plant-based approach to health. What’s interesting is that studies show that any degree of reducing animal products from your diet will have positive long-term effects. From those who just opt to remove meat from their diets once or twice a week to strict vegans (eating a whole food healthy vegan diet), there will be improvement in your health.
It’s totally up to you just how much improvement you want to see. Are struggling with weight issues and fat loss has started to feel impossible for you? Or are you only seeing short-term weight loss that keeps coming back? I would recommend a whole food healthy diet of only plant foods. You will see results so much faster with this easier weight loss protocol.
This holistic approach will also quickly improve your overall health. If you are struggling with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, consider plant based. This approach can move those numbers in a healthy direction. This happens in a way that animal protein or animal products in general cannot accomplish without extreme restriction.
Ideal Protein Food List
This is not an exhaustive list of plant protein sources. In fact, all plants contain some protein as well as a wealth of other nutrients that make them the perfect package to deliver healthy protein to your diet. If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet that includes foods like those listed below, you will see positive results.
1. Lentils (18 g per cooked cup)
2. Beans (15 g per cooked cup)
3. Chickpeas (15 g per cooked cup)
4. Quinoa (8 g per cooked cup)
5. Soybeans (14 g per cooked cup)
6. Seitan (21 g per 3 oz)
7. Nuts (4-7 g per handful)
8. Tempeh (16 g per 3 oz)
9. Tofu (10 g per 3 oz)
10. Hemp seeds (10 g per 3 tablespoons)
11. Chia seeds (4 g per 2 tablespoons)
12. Flax Seeds (3 g per 2 tablespoons
13. Oats (6 g per cooked cup)
14. Peas (9 g per cooked cup)
15. Nutritional yeast (8 g per 2 tablespoons)
16. Spinach (5 g per cooked cup)
17. Spirulina (8 g per 2 tablespoons)
18. Broccoli (4 g per cooked cup)
19. Avocado (4 g per cup)
20. Potato (4 g per cooked cup)
21. Artichoke (4 g per cooked cup)
22. Sunflower seeds (6 g per 3 tablespoons)
23. Almonds (6 g per handful)
24. Cashews (5 g per handful)
25. Peanut butter (7 g per 2 tablespoons)