Healthy Eating

The Healthiest Protein-Rich Foods That Support Weight Loss

Tacos, high-protein pasta, nut butter, and more!

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

When it comes to supporting your weight loss goals, there’s no one better for the job than protein. Aside from being one of the three essential macronutrients needed for energy and daily functioning, protein also plays an important role in building lean muscle, boosting metabolism, and regulating our appetite. From promoting satiety, to reducing cravings, and increasing the body’s ability to burn calories during a state of rest, the power of protein for weight loss is apparent! But that’s not all this might macronutrient does. Protein is constantly at work making hormones, enzymes, and antibodies to help support our immune, lymphatic, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems. It’s even needed for healthy hair, skin, and nails! So yes, while protein is a must-have ingredient in your weight loss recipe, filling up on this macro will benefit your mind and body in so many other ways too. 

And good news — there are so many wholesome sources of protein. No matter if you follow a Paleo or plant-based diet or whether you’re a meat eater or plant-based eater, there are so many ways to fill your diet with protein and achieve your weight loss goals

So if you’re wondering how you can get high-quality protein in your diet, keep reading! Ahead, the eight healthiest protein-rich foods for weight loss. 

8 Best Protein-Rich Foods For Weight Loss Support

#1 Lean Meat & Poultry

If your diet includes animal proteins, adding lean proteins like beef, turkey, and chicken in your diet not only provides your body with delicious, high-quality protein but it also offers nutrients like vitamin B12, choline, zinc, and iron. That said, not all meats are created equal! To avoid saturated fat and added calories, opt for leaner cuts of meat like chicken breast and lean ground beef or turkey. And whenever possible, choose free-range, grass-fed, and organic.

Enjoy beef or turkey tacos, top your salad with chicken breast or sirloin steak, add chicken to your sandwich or pasta dish, or grill a hamburger made from lean ground beef. Simple, delicious, and protein-packed ways to support your weight loss goals!

#2 Salmon

Filled with heart-healthy fats that have been shown to reduce inflammation and packed with a hefty portion of satiating protein, salmon is one of our favorite foods for weight loss. It contains minerals like iodine and selenium, nutrients that help regulate and support thyroid health and metabolism. 

Plus, it keeps you fuller for longer, and its flaky texture is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. This fish can be enjoyed grilled, broiled, or baked in the oven for a quick sheet pan dinner. Toss it in stir-fries, add it to salads, or enjoy it with a side of colorful roasted veggies. It even makes a delicious topping for breakfast (hint: avocado toast or scrambled eggs) when you’re looking for a healthy boost of protein. 

#3 Eggs

Speaking of eggs, eggs are a convenient and healthy way to sneak in some high-quality protein. While egg whites contain the majority of the protein, don’t forget about the yolks! You’ll get some extra nutrients like choline and iodine, which help support brain and thyroid health. Plus, because egg yolks contain healthy fats, you’ll better absorb nutrients and stay satiated for longer.

Enjoy them scrambled with veggies and a side of sweet potato toast, bake them into easy-prep egg muffins, or try them hard-boiled on top of a salad, sandwich, or alone as a healthy snack.

RELATED: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Avoid The Egg Yolk

#4 Nut & Seed Butter

From peanut, to walnut, to almond, to sunflower, there are endless protein-rich options to choose from! In fact, you can enjoy (or make) a creamy butter out of virtually any nut or seed, making it an easy way to enjoy some plant-based protein in your diet. Just make sure your selection is free of added sugars, oils, and sodium! Nut and seeds are rich in antioxidants, heart-healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory properties. Try to mix and match to get a variety of different nutrients in your diet!

Add a spoonful to your smoothie, smear almond butter or PB onto your toast, stir it into your overnight oats, or use it in dressings or baked goods. 

P.S. Making your own is easier than you think! Try our healthy (and budget-friendly) homemade nut butter guide.

#5 Protein-Rich Pasta

Pasta may not be top of mind when it comes to protein, but there are so many healthy and protein-rich selections out there! From chickpea pasta to lentil and black bean pasta, you can get up to 25 grams of plant-based protein per serving! And even if you’re opting for traditional pasta, a two-ounce serving contains 6 grams of protein — as much as one medium egg! Just be sure to read the ingredients and reach for a brand made from whole grains. 

Enjoy a serving of pasta with some veggies and healthy fats — like pesto or a drizzle of olive oil — for a balanced and delicious meal with some natural protein. 

#6 Yogurt

Looking for a tasty way to support your weight loss goals? Yogurt is a great option! Unsweetened varieties like Greek yogurt and almond-based non-dairy yogurt are high in protein and healthy fats, a dynamic duo for weight loss support. Plus, yogurt is a great source of gut-healthy probiotics. And ICYDK, weight loss and gut health are intimately connected! Look for a yogurt high in protein and low in sugar (or free from sugar). 

Brands like Siggi’s, Maple Hill, and Stonyfield Farm Grass Fed Yogurt are some of our favorite healthy and high-quality choices.

#7 Lentils

One cup of cooked lentils contains a whopping 18 grams of protein, not to mention the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals it provides. Plus, this lean legume is an excellent source of fiber, helping to aid digestion and increase satiety.  

A cozy lentil soup or a hearty lentil taco can help you sneak more lentils in your diet. This plant-based protein is also tasty in salads and stews and can even be used as a meat alternative in burgers. 

When your next comfort food craving strikes, give these weight loss friendly Tuscan Lentil Sloppy Joes a try!

Ingredients:

  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1½ cups lentils
  • 1½ tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1½ tsp ground chili powder (optional)
  • 4 garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • sea salt & black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups vegetable broth

Directions:

Option #1 (Slow Cooker): Add everything to the slow cooker and stir. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours. If you notice the mixture gets dry, add extra broth. Season with salt and pepper.

Option #2 (Stovetop Option): Add the lentils and vegetable broth to a pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium low heat. Stir and cover. Cook covered for 18-22 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain any excess liquid. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the remaining ingredients and let simmer while the lentils cook. Add the lentils to this mixture when ready. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

#8 Edamame

For less than 200 calories, you can enjoy nearly 20 grams of protein per one-cup serving of edamame. If you’re new to this plant-based protein, it’s the healthiest and most nutritious form of soy (considering it’s the unprocessed bean). It’s rich in fiber, vitamin K, and antioxidants. 

To enjoy it as a weight loss friendly food, use it as the protein source in stir-fries, add it to pasta dishes or salads, or enjoy it plain as a healthy snack or appetizer. 

You can even blend it into dips or spreads! If making homemade hummus, try it in place of chickpeas. Or, give this Cilantro Lime Edamame Dip a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

Step #1: Add the cooked edamame, cilantro, jalapeno, and garlic to the food processor. Pulse until the edamame is broken down into very small pieces. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until it forms a smooth dip. 

Step #2: Garnish with extra edamame and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with crackers or raw veggies of choice.

Prioritizing Protein For Weight Loss

Along with eating a balanced diet, including physical activity into your lifestyle, and prioritizing sleep, including high-quality protein in your diet can help support weight loss in a natural way. So, be sure to top your salad with chicken slices, top your toast with an egg, or add a scoop of nut butter to your smoothie for a boost of protein. You will feel more satisfied and support a healthy and balanced diet, both of which are key to supporting weight loss efforts.