High Protein Rich Foods & Role of Protein in Weight Loss

    Protein is one of the basic and important macronutrient, required by the human body in large amounts. Its importance itself reflects from its name of Greek origin- ‘proteios’ meaning ‘first place’.

    Proteins are made up of amino acids, polymerised in a different, definitive structure which imparts its specific functions. These 20 amino acids are classified as-

    • Essential amino acids- Total 9 in numbers, these cannot be produced in the body.
    • Non-essential amino acids- These can be produced in the body

    With digestion, protein breaks down to simpler molecule of amino acids, which are readily available and absorbed by all the body tissues. From there, they are utilised to carry out basic body functions like

    • Growth and maintenance of body tissues
    • Regulation- as hormones and enzymes
    • Immune response- as immunoglobulins
    • Structure formation- in muscles, hair and nails

    Having said about basic functions of protein, this essential nutrient is now trending more than ever, owing to its benefits in the procedure of weight loss and keeping the body’s metabolism healthy.

    Health and clinical experts and renowned organisations across the globe emphasize on the intake of high protein rich foods as a part of a balanced diet [1].

    Various ways in which protein helps in weight loss are discussed below.

    1. Protein has high satiety value– By this we mean, it gives a high feeling of fullness as compared to carbs and fats. This results in reduced appetite with better control over calorie intake as well as portion sizes. A study published in the Obesity showed that unlike carbs and fats, protein has a major impact over secretion of appetite hormones that results in a better feeling of fullness [2].
    2. Protein has a high thermic effect– Thermic effect is the amount of energy required by the nutrient for its complete digestion and assimilation in the body. Protein has a high TEF value ranging from 20-35% of total calories burned. This means that ingestion of protein-rich foods requires and utilizes more of body energy for its digestion and utilization resulting in greater energy been burnt.
    3. Protein accelerate the metabolism- Protein has a tendency to speed up the metabolic rate. This is because
    • Protein increases the energy expenditure in the body
    • Protein helps in muscle formation which consequently, increases the metabolism.
    1. Protein regulates appetite hormone– It is seen that intake of high protein rich foods induces the secretion or inhibition of appetite-regulating hormones. Ingestion of protein food has seen to stimulate hormones like
    • CCK (Cholecystokinin)- delays gastric emptying and hence, imparts a feeling of fullness
    • GLP-1 and peptide YY that induces satiety
    • Also, inhibits the ghrelin hormone which is known to stimulate the appetite.

    According to the study published in the International Journal Of Obesity, it was seen that the consumption of High protein and Low GI diet resulted in significant weight loss. Also, there was a high percentage of fat loss along with a lesser prevalence of overweight and obesity among children. This was attributed to high satiety value and the thermic effect of protein [3].

    For this reason, its daily and efficient supply to the human body is crucial. According to Harvard, Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for a healthy person ranges between 0.8-1.0 gram per kg body weight [4]. It is essential to consume high protein rich food of good bioavailability for healthy weight loss and sound and active lifestyle.

    High protein rich foods

    On the basis of origin, high protein-rich food sources can be categorised into two major groups- animal and plant sources. Where animal sources are considered as ‘complete protein’ owing to the availability of all 9 essential amino acids, the plant sources are placed under the category of ‘incomplete proteins’ as they lack in one or the other essential amino acids.

    The major high protein rich foods are

    1. Beans and legumes

    One of the rich sources of protein among vegetarians, beans and legumes are popular, easily accessible and convenient to make in every household. Along with high protein, these are also a rich source of fibre and antioxidants like polyphenols.

    Some of the highest protein containing beans and legumes are (Source: USDA [5]).

    Sources Protein Content (grams per cup)
    Boiled soybeans 31.3
    Lentils 17.9
    Chickpeas 14.5
    Kidney beans 15.3


    2. Dairy Products

    Milk and milk products comprises principally of two types of protein- Whey and casein. Both of them are considered as complete protein owing to the presence of all 9 essential amino acids. Moreover, these are also rich in important micronutrients like calcium and vitamin D that ensures good bone health.

    Some of the high protein-rich dairy sources are (Source:USDA[6]).

    Sources Protein content (grams per cup)
    Milk 8
    Cottage cheese 10.45
    Greek yoghurt 23
    Cheese 28


    3. Egg and Poultry

    These are one of the richest sources of high-quality protein. In fact, the egg protein is considered as the standard for analysing the protein quality of other food products.

    The poultry products comprise of white, lean meat like chicken, turkey, geese and duck. These are high sources of protein with no or minimal fat, making it ideal for weight loss as it controls the calorie intake (Source: USDA).

    Sources Protein Content (gram per 100 gram)
    Egg yolk 15.8
    Egg white 10.9
    Egg whole, cooked, hard-boiled 12.58
    Chicken 27

    4. Nuts and Seeds

    Nuts and seeds are one of the highest protein-rich food categories which is generally avoided under the myth that these are fattening. If analysed scientifically, these are not only high in protein but also a rich source of healthy fats- Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants like vitamin E.

    Below is the list of few commonly consumed, protein-rich nuts and seeds (Source: USDA).

    Sources Protein Content (gram per 100 gram)
    Almonds 21.15
    Walnuts 15.23
    Pumpkin seeds 30.23
    Chia seeds 16.54
    Watermelon Seeds 28.3


    The high protein-rich food sources possess a great significance when you desire health gain along with weight loss. A good quality protein ensures the preservation of lean body mass along with a healthy fat burn, building and maintenance of body tissues, regulation of body mechanisms and consequently, to a sustainable healthy and active lifestyle.

    The nutrient richness and health not lies in the artificial supplements or the exotic, gourmet foods, it lies in the options which are readily available and regularly consumed at our homes, in our kitchen shelves. The only secret is the right knowledge and efficient awareness of its utilization and consumption.


    Swati Shukla
    Swati Shukla
    Doctorate in Food Science and Nutrition, an enthusiast writer in academic and scholarly articles and papers. She is a Gold medalist, National Scholarship holder, UGC qualified and a lifetime member of IDA and NSI, India. She holds expertise in public speaking, nutrition consultation with over 5 years of experience in research and analysis.

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