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What is Protein? Types of Protein

Protein is one of the essential food ingredients. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino acids (22 amino acids in all) are essential for building, maintaining and repairing muscles and are said to be the building blocks of our body.

How much protein need? | Proteins in vegetarian food | Protein Foods List | Protein in Milk, Yogurt, Cheese | Protein in Chicken | Protein in Nuts and Seeds

Types of Protein Food

There are two types of proteins. Some foods like e.g. dairy products, meat, fish and eggs contain sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids, are known as first class proteins. Second class proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids. Vegetable proteins belong to second class.

Our body cannot make 9 of the 22 common amino acids, so they must be obtained via food. All these nine amino acids are essential for our body to make protein.

We can get these amino acids from our diet. Note that when we talk about the protein content of a food, we mean the amino acids that make protein in our body.

Function of protein in our body

Protein is essential for us for various functions:

  1. Growth of body tissue
  2. Repair of body tissue
  3. Red blood cells
  4. Proper functioning of antibodies that resist infection
  5. Regulation of enzymes and hormones
List of high Protein Foods

How Much Protein You Need?

How much protein do we need daily?

According to the RDA recommendations, our daily protein requirement is of 0.8 to 1.0 gram of protein for every kilogram of our body weight (or about 0.36 to 0.45 gram of protein per pound that you weigh) daily. Roughly, the protein requirement is about 10-15% of calories coming from protein daily.

The protein requirements for sport athletes like runners, cyclists and triathletes are from 25 to 50% more (0.5 to 0.72 gram of protein per pound of body weight) than for non active individuals.

If your body weight = 55 kg and
your calorie requirement = 2200 calories per day, then
your protein requirement = 55 kg x 1 gram/kg = 55 gram.
Since 1 gram of protein provides 4 calories,
55 gram of protein x 4 calories/gram of protein
= 220 calories from protein per day. or
(220/2200) x 100 = 10% of calories from protein.

Protein Deficiency

Loss of body protein can occur because of stress, surgery, hemorrhage, wounds or prolonged illness and also heavy exercise. Protein deficiency may affect growth and tissue development, especially the hair, nail, skin and muscle tone.

Protein Foods for Vegetarians

High Protein Foods for vegetarians

It is generally said that a vegetarian or vegan diet is low in protein. See the picture on left for a list of vegetarian protein foods. The fact is that pulses (peas, beans and lentils), nuts, seeds and grains are maximum vegetarian protein foods.
The vegetarians can meet their requirement of protein easily if they eat a variety of foods with protein sources in amounts providing them enough calories to maintain their weight. Almost all vegetables, beans, grains, rice, tofu,nuts and seeds are protein rich, so these are the best protein sources which are quickly absorbed by the body. Note that protein in pulses is 27% of calories, in nuts and seeds 13% and in grains 12%. On the other hand, food like fruits, sugars, fats and alcohol are low in protein.

Protein Rich Foods

The list of protein foods includes meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dairy products, seeds and nuts, beans and lentils, grains like wheat, rice, barley and corn, and soy products. These foods are generally recommended for athletes and body builders for muscle gain and growth in their weight gain diet.

Eggs, milk, spinach, soybean, quinoa, meat, fish, whole grains, rice, beans, legumes, corn, oats, peas and peanut butter are good protein sources.

 Protein Food Weight
SizeProtein (g)
Alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw331 cup1.32
Artichokes, (globe or French), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1201 medium4.18
Asparagus, canned, drained solids724 spears1.54
Asparagus, cooked, boiled, drained604 spears1.55
Asparagus, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup5.31
Avocados, raw, California28.351 oz0.60
Avocados, raw, Florida28.351 oz0.45
Beans, baked, canned, plain or vegetarian2541 cup12.17
Beans, baked, canned, with pork and tomato sauce2531 cup13.05
Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1721 cup15.24
Beans, Cowpeas (Blackeyed), immature seeds,  boiled, without salt1651 cup5.23
Beans, Cowpeas (blackeyed), immature seeds, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt170 1 cup 14.43 
Beans, Cowpeas, common (blackeyes, crowder, southern), mature seeds,1721 cup13.30
Beans, Rajmah recipe, red, mature seeds, canned2561 cup13.44
Beans, Kidney beans, red, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1771 cup15.35
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, canned2411 cup11.88
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1881 cup14.66
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, cooked, boiled,  without salt1241 cup2.52
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, raw1041 cup3.16
Beans, Navy beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1821 cup15.83
Beans, Pinto beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1711 cup14.04
Soybeans, mature cooked, boiled, without salt1801 cup22.23
Beans, Snap beans, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids1351 cup1.55
Beans, Snap beans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1251 cup2.36
Beans, White beans, mature seeds, canned2621 cup19.02
Beet greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1441 cup3.70
Beets, canned, drained solids1701 cup1.55
Broccoli, raw881 cup2.62
Broccoli, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup4.65
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained1701 cup2.86
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained501 beet0.84
Cabbage, Chinese (pak-choi), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1701 cup2.65
Cabbage, Chinese (pe-tsai), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1191 cup1.79
Cabbage, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1501 cup1.53
Cabbage, raw701 cup1.01
Cabbage, red, raw701 cup0.97
Carrots, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup1.70
Carrots, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1461 cup1.74
Carrots, raw1101 cup1.13
Cauliflower, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1241 cup2.28
Cauliflower, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup2.90
Cauliflower, raw1001 cup1.98
Celery, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1501 cup1.25
Celery, raw1201 cup0.90
Corn, sweet, white, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt771 ear2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, vacuum pack, regular pack2101 cup5.06
Corn, sweet, yellow, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt771 ear2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels cut off cob, boiled, drained, without salt1641 cup4.51
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels on cob, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt63 1 ear 1.96 
Cucumber, peeled, raw1191 cup0.68
Cucumber, with peel, raw1041 cup0.72
Dandelion greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1051 cup2.10
Endive, raw501 cup0.63
Garlic, raw31 clove0.19
Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1981 cup17.86
Lettuce, cos or romaine, raw561 cup0.91
Lettuce, iceberg (includes crisphead types), raw551 cup0.56
Lettuce, looseleaf, raw561 cup0.73
Mushrooms, canned, drained solids1561 cup2.92
Mushrooms, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup3.39
Mushrooms, raw701 cup2.03
Mustard greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1401 cup3.16
Okra, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup2.99
Okra, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1841 cup3.83
Olives, ripe, canned (small-extra large)225 large0.18
Onions, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt2101 cup2.86
Onions, dehydrated flakes51 tbsp0.45
Onions, raw1101 whole1.28
Onions, spring or scallions (includes tops and bulb), raw1001 cup1.83
Parsley, raw1010 sprigs0.30
Parsnips, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup2.06
Peas, edible-podded, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup5.23
Peas, edible-podded, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup5.60
Peas, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids1701 cup7.51
Peppers, hot chili, green, raw451 pepper0.90
Peppers, hot chili, red, raw451 pepper0.90
Peppers, sweet, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1361 cup1.25
Peppers, sweet, green, raw1191 pepper1.06
Peppers, sweet, red, raw1191 pepper1.06
Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt2021 potato5.05
Potatoes, baked, flesh, without salt1561 potato3.06
Potatoes, boiled, cooked in skin, flesh, without salt1361 potato2.54
Potatoes, boiled, cooked without skin, flesh, without salt1351 potato2.31
Potatoes, hashed brown, home-prepared1561 cup3.78
Pumpkin, canned, without salt2451 cup2.70
Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt2451 cup1.76
Radishes, raw4.51 radish0.03
Spinach, canned, drained solids2141 cup6.01
Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup5.35
Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1901 cup5.97
Spinach, raw301 cup0.86
Squash, summer, all varieties, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup1.64
Squash, summer, all varieties, raw1131 cup1.33
Squash, winter, all varieties, cooked, baked, without salt2051 cup1.82
Squash, winter, butternut, frozen, cooked, boiled, without salt2401 cup2.95
Sweet potato, canned, vacuum pack2551 cup4.21
Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt1461 potato2.51
Sweet potato, cooked, boiled, without skin, without salt1561 potato2.57
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, stewed2551 cup2.42
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, whole, regular pack2401 cup2.21
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average1801 cup1.53
Tomatoes, sun-dried21 piece0.28
Tomatoes, sun-dried, packed in oil, drained31 piece0.15
Watermelon, raw2861 wedge1.77

Note that soybean foods contain higher amount of proten than other beans and lentils.

Other High Protein Vegetarian Food

 Protein Food Weight
SizeProtein (g)
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat1201 cup15.14
Buckwheat groats, roasted, cooked1681 cup5.68
Bulgur, cooked1821 cup5.61
Bulgur, dry1381 cup11.70
Cornmeal, degermed, enriched, yellow1401 cup17.21
Cornmeal, whole-grain, yellow1221 cup9.91
Noodles, chinese, chow mein451 cup3.77
Oat bran, cooked2191 cup7.03
Oat bran, raw941 cup16.26
Peanut butter, smooth style, with salt161 tbsp4.03
Quinoa, cooked-1 cup11
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked1251955.03
Rice, white, long-grain, regular, cooked1581954.25
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, without added salt1401 cup6.68
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked1401 cup7.46
Tempeh2251 cup31
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride811/4 block6.51
Wheat flour, white, all-purpose, enriched, bleached1251 cup12.91
Wheat flour, whole-grain1251 cup16.44
Wheat flour, white, bread, enriched12513716.41
Whole wheat bread2 slices2 slices5
Veggie burger1 patty1 patty5-24

Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15

From the above table you can chose high protein food. Notice that beans, soybean, wheat flour and oat bran are some of the best proten foods. Many of the high protein meals, snacks, shakes, bars, powders, drinks, etc. contain these foods.


  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 25
    www.ars.usda.gov/ SP2UserFiles/Place/ 12354500/Data/ SR25/ nutrlist/sr25a203.pdf
  2. USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15
    www.nal.usda.gov/ fnic/foodcomp/ Data/SR15/sr15.html
  3. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine.
    www.iom.edu/ Activities/Nutrition/ SummaryDRIs/

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Protein content of most vegetarian foods are given on this page.