Each food has a unique profile that nourishes us in a different way. Some foods provide necessary vitamins and minerals, while others give us the fats and proteins that we crave. Most, in fact, do some combination.
In this article, we present a complete list of food sources of protein. It also emphasizes which food groups provide the most complete sources of protein in our diets. We will also briefly discuss food groups that offer more incomplete sources of protein. We will note how the various kinds and levels of protein vary between food groups.
The top meat sources of protein include beef, pork, and lamb. Also various game meats, such as bison, venison, and elk.
These are all extremely high in protein per serving, and each cut of meat is about 25-30% protein. For a 3-ounce serving, for example, this equates to about 25 grams of protein. Thus, these foods are extremely dense and should not be overindulged considering their higher saturated fat content, which can raise bad cholesterol levels
Meats are considered a complete protein in that they contain all nine amino acids necessary for the human body to function optimally. Unfortunately, the human body cannot produce an adequate enough of these amino acids on its own. It must get them from our diet.
The poultry food group includes domesticated birds such as chicken, turkey, and duck as well the eggs of these creatures. Poultry is also considered a complete source of protein. It is generally leaner than the foods comprising the meat food group. As such, they can be eaten in greater abundance. They generally range from about 20-25% protein.
Protein is a macronutrient used to build and repair tissue in the body and is a precursor to various enzymes and hormones. Thus, it is critical that we get enough protein in our diet each day. Ideal estimates of daily protein intake range anywhere from 40 grams per day to 70-80 grams per day. It is depending on weight, gender, and level of exercise.
The dairy food group is quite a specialized source of complete protein in that it comprises foods made only from the milk of the cow. This includes yogurt and cheese. The milk is also often drunken on its own after pasteurization. The complete proteins in milk are whey and casein, which comprise 20% and 80% of milk, respectively.
What’s unique about this food group is that it is one of the highest sources of calcium on the planet, which is critical for bone health.
Many nutritionists consider seafood to be the most perfect source of protein available. This food group includes any organism caught from the sea, most popularly being salmon, tuna, shrimp, and various shellfish.
Seafood is considered a complete source of protein, but also has the added benefit of being high in both EHA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for heart health, brain health, and for reducing inflammation.
This food group comprises of beans, peas, lentils, and some nuts like peanuts and carob nuts.
They are considered an incomplete source of protein because they lack certain amino acids, but this can be balanced by eating complementary foods that supply what is missing in the diet.
Grains, like wheat, rye, oats, and rice, are also incomplete sources of protein that range anywhere from 10% to 20% protein. When properly combined with vegetables and legumes, however, they can allow one’s meal or diet to include all the essential amino acids for proper maintenance of tissues and muscles.
Nuts and Seeds
A nut is technically a fruit which contains an inedible shell and an internal seed. Humans often eat either the extracted seed or the nut after drying the substance to prevent spoilage. Alternatively, some seeds require us to cook them to make them edible.
Some examples of nuts and seeds include almonds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and amaranth.
Nuts and seeds, while ranging from 20-25% protein, are also extremely high in fat. Nuts should be eaten in moderation, perhaps no more than a handful a day.
Our Final Thoughts on Sources of Protein
Animal sources of protein are often considered superior to plant sources of protein because of their complete profile, though this can be clearly overcome through proper food combining.
The truth is, adequate nutrition and protein can be found in any whole food, especially if it sourced from an organic, local farm.
Even fruits and vegetables contain high-quality protein with tons of fiber. They are just simply eaten in much lower quantities than animal protein, and thus require more calories to get the same amount of protein.
Thus, each food on this should ideally be paired with a fruit or vegetable. This will balance out our diet and help us live a longer, richer life.