How to Eat Enough Protein

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sliced rare steak next to assorted vegetables showing a meal with enough proteinAs I discussed in a recent post, my diet has been trending toward a higher protein intake than in years past. Rarely do I consume less than 100 grams of protein. Most days I’m considerably higher even eating only two meals. Those meals center around protein first and foremost with vegetables playing more of a supportive role.

After so many years of following a Primal diet, I feel wholly confident in my ability to eat intuitively. I trust my body to guide my food decisions from meal to meal, day to day, and week to week, so I don’t bother with tracking macros (the exact amounts of protein, carbs, and fat I eat each day). However, knowledge is power. You should have a sense of your protein and carb intake at least, even you’re getting even if you ballpark it.

Most folks don’t have a clue what they’re eating, though. Sure, they might read nutrition labels at the supermarket, but how many people know what 100-150 grams of protein look like in terms of actual food? Do you know how much protein is in a single chicken breast? How about a six-ounce steak? Three eggs, handful of nuts, or even vegetables?

How to Measure Protein Intake

Protein is measured by the gram weight of the protein itself, not the total volume of food you eat. This is a common point of confusion for people who are new to tracking their food. As you’ll see, four ounces of steak is different protein-wise than four ounces of chicken breast or salmon. To determine how much protein a given food contains, you’ll need an app like Cronometer (my current favorite) plus a food scale for precision. Measure all meat raw and make sure to select the correct entry (raw versus cooked) in your tracking app.

Even if you don’t want to weigh and measure all your food, consider tracking just your protein intake for a few days. See what you’re averaging. In my experience, almost everyone is eating less than they think, especially if they practice intermittent fasting. Once you have a decent sense of what it takes to hit your daily protein goal, it’s up to you whether you want to continue to track or not.

I’ll save you some time and provide protein data for a bunch of common foods below. All values came from Cronometer. You’ll notice right away that this list includes both animal- and plant-based sources of protein, including things like legumes and soy products that aren’t strictly Primal. Don’t take this to mean that I think animal and plant sources of protein are equivalent. There’s no question that animal-based proteins are superior in terms of bioavailability and amino acid profiles. However, our Primal community includes individuals who self-identify as plant-based, vegetarian, or even vegan. I want them to eat enough protein, too, from the best possible sources. I’ve thoroughly covered the question of plant-based diets vis a vis Primal Blueprint recommendations in the past. Scroll to the end of the post for further reading on the topic.

 

How Much Protein Is in Meat?

Values provided for raw meat by weight.

Ground beef, 85% lean (4 oz.): 21 grams

Ground turkey, 93% lean (4 oz.): 21 grams

Chicken breast, boneless (4 oz.): 26 grams

Chicken thighs, boneless (4 oz.): 23 grams

Turkey breast (4 oz.): 26 grams

Porkchop (4 oz.): 25 grams

Pork shoulder (4 oz.): 21 grams

Steak, New York strip (4 oz.): 25 grams

Steak, ribeye (4 oz.): 22 grams

Ham (4 oz.): 23 grams

Venison (4 oz.): 24 grams

Beef liver (4 oz.): 23 grams

Beef heart (4 oz.): 21 grams

Beef tongue (4 oz.): 20 grams

Protein in Seafood

Tuna, fresh (4 oz.): 28 grams

Salmon (4 oz.): 25 grams

Pollock (4 oz.): 22 grams

Trout (4 oz.): 23 grams

Oysters (4 oz.): 11 grams

Shrimp (4 oz.): 15 grams

Canned tuna (1 5-oz. can): 36 grams

Canned sardines (1 4.4-oz. can): 17 grams

Protein in Common Dairy Products

Cottage cheese, full-fat, plain (1 cup): 23 grams

Cottage cheese, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 22 grams

Greek yogurt, full-fat, plain (1 cup): 22 grams

Greek yogurt, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 25 grams

Whole milk (1 cup): 8 grams

Skim milk (1 cup): 8 grams

Heavy whipping cream (2 Tbsp.): 1 gram

Cheddar cheese (1 oz.): 7 grams

Swiss cheese (1 oz.): 8 grams

Cream cheese, full-fat (1 oz.): 2 grams

Are Eggs High in Protein?

Chicken egg (1 large): 6 grams

Duck egg (1): 9 grams

Quail egg (1): 1 gram

Plant-based Protein: Legumes and Soy

Tofu, firm (4 oz.): 14 grams

Tempeh (4 oz.): 23 grams

Natto (4 oz.): 22 grams

Lentils (1/2 cup cooked): 9 grams

Split peas (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams

Black beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams

Kidney beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams

Pinto beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams

Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans (1/2 cup cooked): 7 grams

Green peas (1/2 cup): 4 grams

Nuts and Seeds

Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp.): 7 grams

Almond Butter (2 Tbsp.): 7 grams

Almonds (1 oz.): 6 grams

Cashews (1 oz.): 5 grams

Macadamias (1 oz.): 2 grams

Walnuts (1 oz.): 4 grams

Chia seeds (1 oz.): 5 grams

Flax seeds (1 oz.): 5 grams

Hemp seeds (1 oz.): 9 grams

Pumpkin seeds (1 oz.): 9 grams

Sesame Seeds (1 oz.): 6 grams

Sunflower seeds (1 oz.): 6 grams

Fruits and Vegetables with the Most Protein 

Spirulina powder (2 Tbsp.): 12 grams

Brussels sprouts (1 cup): 4 grams

Broccoli florets (1 cup): 3 grams

Asparagus (4 large spears): 2 grams

Green beans (1 cup): 2 grams

Spinach, raw (1 cup): 1 gram

White potatoes (1 medium): 4 grams

Sweet potatoes (1 medium): 2 grams

Blackberries (1 cup): 2 grams

Guava (1 fruit): 1-2 grams

Gluten-free Ancient Grains, Pseudograins, Grasses

Teff (1/2 cup cooked): 5 grams

Amaranth (1/2 cup cooked): 5 grams

Quinoa (1/2 cup cooked): 4 grams

Wild rice (1/2 cup cooked): 3 grams

This is obviously not a complete list of every protein-containing you might eat. Protein powders, especially whey protein, are convenient and usually highly bioavailable sources of essential amino acids. I didn’t include them here because protein content varies by brand, but you can usually expect 20-30 grams per serving. I also avoided the bevy of fake meat alternatives. In part that’s because they also vary widely in protein offerings, but more to the point, many of them contain objectionable ingredients such that I can’t in good conscience list them here.

Finally, let me put in a plug for looking seriously at insects as an option. Unless you grew up in a culture that values insects as a food staple, you’re probably shaking your head right now, but insects win big points both for sustainability and nutrition!

Check out our recipe collection for tons of fantastic ideas for protein-centered meals.

Further Reading

  • 17 Primal Tips for Vegans and Vegetarians
  • Low Carb Vegan: Is Plant-based Keto Possible?
  • What Primal Types Can Learn from Plant-Based Diets (and Dieters)
  • Whey Protein vs. Pea Protein

Protein FAQ

How much protein do I need?

A good rule of thumb is to aim for a minimum of 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of lean body mass for overall health. For building muscle, research suggests 0.8 g/lb (1.6 g/kg) of body weight is a good target.

How much protein is too much?

There’s not really an upper limit, though at some point you start to get diminishing returns. The myth that you shouldn’t consume more 30 grams of protein at a time because that’s all your body can assimilate is just that – a myth.

Is protein powder good for you?

While I generally recommend opting for whole foods first, protein powders can provide convenient options for meal replacements or snacks. Whey protein is the most bioavailable. Even though it is derived from dairy, many people who are lactose intolerant tolerate whey protein powders.

Best vegan protein sources?

It’s extremely difficult to be both vegan and Primal. Most vegan-friendly foods that contain non-negligible protein are borderline Primal at best. That said, legumes, nuts, and seeds of all kinds, plus teff, quinoa, amaranth, and vegan protein powders will be your best bets.

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