Break out of your diet rut with these frequently neglected protein sources.
Traditional “bodybuilding foods” like chicken, eggs, protein powder, and tuna are staples for a reason: they’re all high and lean-protein, relatively-low fat, and easy to prepare. They can though turn eating into a tedious affair. To help offset that boredom, here are 8 foods that pack not only protein, but a variety of flavors and vital nutrients. I’ve included relative protein contents for each of them, though note that different amino acid profiles can affect how your body uses protein. Typically, vegetable sources have less-favorable profiles (i.e. they’re less bioavailable), but I’ve also noted instances in which this isn’t the case. To help you shop, the protein calculations are based on products you’re likely to buy in a grocery store, whether it’s raw red meat or a bag of roasted pumpkin seeds.
While similar to beef, bison is leaner and stronger flavored when compared to its domesticated cousin. The differences are due both to biology and to typical bison farming practices, which generally involve offering a grass-based diet and plenty of room to move. Much like beef, the protein/fat content and flavor of bison is dependent on the particular cut and grade. Rounds and sirloins are typically leaner than other cuts, while “select” cuts are leaner than similar “choice” or “prime” cuts.
Protein (top round, raw): 22g/100g serving
Condensed and Evaporated Milk
These milk products may have been the first mass-gain supplements. Evaporated milk is simply milk that’s been heat-treated to remove some of its water, while condensed milk is generally evaporated milk with a load of sugar added in. Water removal makes both products more calorie- and protein-dense than normal milk, and in the case of condensed milk the added sugar really ups the calorie count. The result is a thick liquid with a mild caramel flavor brought on by the heating process. While lactose-intolerant folks should steer clear, those looking for a ready-to-drink bulking snack might want to give it a try.
Protein 8g/100g serving
These dried microorganisms might be the next big thing in protein supplementation. Best known as a component of pond scum in its natural state, or as fish food in its processed state, cyanobacteria (known commercially as “spirulina”) has been eaten for centuries by various cultures. Cyanobacteria, though, has gradually become a common protein supplement used in commercial drinks, smoothies, and greens supplements. Given how easy it is to grow, its balanced amino profile, and many of the nutrient benefits of green vegetables, you’ll probably eat some eventually (if you haven’t already.)
Protein: 57g /100g serving
Consider kidney beans a one-two punch of protein and fiber, the latter of which athletes often don’t get enough of. One cup of beans has 11 grams of fiber, which is almost half of the recommended daily intake for most people. Just make sure that if you buy dried beans, you boil them for at least ten minutes. This will break down PHA, a plant protein that upsets the stomach, even in small doses.
Protein: 9g/100g serving
Also known as pepitas, a bag of roasted seeds makes for an easy snack or a crunchy dinner ingredient. Try them in salads, stir fries, and cereals… or just as a snack on their own between meals.
Protein (roasted): 33g/100g serving
This plant, rather unusually, exhibits traits of both grains and grasses. Not surprisingly, once cooked its grains taste like brown rice with a hint of lawn. Its high protein content and balanced amino acid profile make it a great carb/protein combo. Though not bad by itself, quinoa can easily be seasoned like rice or couscous.
Protein (uncooked): 14g/100g serving
Since we know turkey mostly as either a labor-intensive annual undertaking, or as a slimy sandwich-stuffer, most people forget turkey is also a year-round protein source. Turkey’s nutritional profile is roughly equivalent to chicken’s, while providing a distinctly different flavor. Turkey burgers are a staple for many, but I prefer turkey breast chops. Chops can be sautéed, grilled, or baked just like chicken breasts.
Protein (raw): 22g/100g serving
Tofu’s underappreciated stepchild, wheat gluten is a concentrated form of wheat protein, and is a vital ingredient in almost all vegetarian meat alternatives because of its chewy texture, rich flavor, and high protein content. Of course, the unlucky few with wheat allergies or Celiac disease should steer clear, but for everyone else (and particularly vegetarians) wheat gluten can be a dietary staple.
Protein: 75g/100g serving
Eating healthy can grow monotonous, but these eight protein-rich items will add a little variety to your diet without sacrificing that protein content you know and love. Next time you’re in the supermarket, seek these out help you break through a plateau, or simply give you a much needed change of pace.