There’s no debate: Our bodies need protein to function. But in recent years, popular weight-loss plans have spotlighted this nutrient as the most important part of your diet. So what’s the deal? While there’s no magic pill for weight loss or overall health, high-protein foods should be an essential component of your daily meals and snacks, explains Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, head of nutrition and wellness at WW. “By eating protein consistently throughout your day, you’re automatically making more satisfying food choices that will help you feel energized and stay fuller, longer—which may also help minimize between-meal grazing,” she says.
We tapped WW’s nutrition experts to shed more light on why protein is so important, how it relates to weight management, and some of the best sources of protein. Here’s the lowdown on 15 protein-rich foods, plus 43 delicious recipes to try:
1. Chicken breast
Chicken is a staple in many diets and for good reason! It’s a great source of protein, lower in saturated fat than some red and processed meats, and it packs a nutrient-dense mix of unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. For the leanest cut with the most protein, opt for grilled skinless chicken breast or skinless rotisserie chicken breast—one 3-oz serving delivers 26 grams of protein and 2.7 grams of saturated fat. You’ll also get key nutrients like selenium (which supports the immune system) and choline, which plays a role in memory, mood, muscle control, and heart health.
2. Ground beef
From burgers to BBQ, beef is a mainstay in many recipes. When it comes to protein, a 4-oz portion of 90% lean ground beef contains 23 grams. Keep in mind, ground beef and other red meats are often higher in unhealthy saturated fats than other protein sources, London says. “You can still enjoy beef, just aim to add a mix of other lean options (like beans and seafood) to your diet,” she recommends.
Nutritionally, one 5-oz salmon filet provides up to 27 grams of protein and is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in their most bioavailable form (aka the most useful to your body). Salmon is also an excellent source of potassium and vitamins B6 and B12, and naturally provides vitamins A and D.