Ask most people to think of a food that is rich in protein, and the first thought that comes to mind is a thick, juicy steak.
It's true that lean meat and poultry are excellent sources of protein, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Whole grains, nuts, vegetables and even certain fruits are just some of the other incredibly healthful and flavorful ways to add protein to your diet.
Meat, Poultry and Eggs
Meat, poultry and eggs are known as complete proteins because they deliver all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs. (For more information, read Protein 101.) At the same time, they also contain cholesterol and saturated fat. (Learn more about cholesterol in our guide.)
Make sure to choose lean meat and poultry with all visible fat and skin removed. Bake it, broil it or grill it. Egg yolks are super-high in cholesterol, so eat them in moderation. Egg whites, on the other hand, are pure protein. Eat them as often as you like.
Seafood is a wonderfully healthful option. Most fish are high in protein, vitamins and minerals and low in artery-clogging saturated fat. As an extra bonus, they are also rich in heart-healthy omega- 3 fatty acids. Experts recommend eating fish twice a week to reap the heart-health benefits.
Milk and Yogurt
Non-fat or low-fat milk and yogurt are excellent sources of protein, just like meat and poultry, but minus the fat. In addition, they deliver a bevy of important vitamins and minerals, chief among them calcium. The latest Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming three cups of low-fat or non-fat milk products daily.
Nuts offer protein and are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which can help to lower "bad" cholesterol levels. Nuts are calorie dense, so a little goes a long way. Nutritionists usually suggest a serving of about 1/4 cup.
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat are an important source of low-fat protein, along with a host of other nutrients including fiber, B vitamins and minerals. The Dietary Guidelines highlight whole grains and suggest Americans eat at least three one-ounce servings each day.
Soy and Other Beans
The protein in soy foods can help reduce your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Studies show that 25 grams of soy protein daily in the diet are needed to produce a significant cholesterol-lowering effect.
From chickpeas to lentils, beans in general are plentiful in low-fat protein.
Vegetables and Fruit
Peas, potatoes, corn, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes and Brussels sprouts are some of the many vegetables that contain protein. In addition, fruits like cherries, apricots, avocadoes, oranges and cantaloupe offer small amounts of protein as well.