The Pros of Protein

Our resident food and wellness expert shares insight into the best sources of protein

Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Jars France Vuelta plates courtesy of Hive Home, Gift & Garden; Ulla Johnson brown dress and Staud white dress courtesy of Hive for Her. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

The supplemental protein industry racks in billions of dollars annually, and you needn’t look far to spot the marketing: There are aisles dedicated to protein bars and powders at grocery stores, plus countless online ads and influencer campaigns suggesting that drinking protein shakes after workouts and snacking on bars throughout the day is the secret to building stronger muscles and losing unwanted weight. But what’s really in these powders and bars?

Because the Food and Drug Administration classifies these products as dietary supplements, manufacturers do not have to disclose all their ingredients. Many are loaded with added and/or artificial sugars, as well as processed proteins (a leading cause of inflammation) from either whey (cow), soy, or pea. Other potential ingredients include chemical thickeners, binders, and emulsifiers; pesticides; BPA; and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury. 

Preparing a protein-rich meal. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Protein is essential for the body to build muscle, regulate the immune system, and support hormone, collagen, and elastin production. When you eat a protein, whether it be plant or animal, your body breaks it down into amino acids. Your liver then sorts out what it needs and sends it where it needs to go; the rest is flushed out in your urine. Your body does this very efficiently if the protein is a real, whole source from plants or animals. Remember: If you don’t recognize an ingredient, neither will your body. 

So how much protein do you need and where should you get it? A less active person will need .75 gram per kilogram of body weight. So, a 135-pound woman will need roughly 50 grams per day, and a 190-pound man will need 65 grams. A more active person will need to double the protein. Kids aged 4 to 9 need 19 grams per day, 9 to 13 need 34 grams, and 14 to 18 need 40 to 50 grams. 

Read on to discover some of the best animal and plant sources of protein and easy recipes to try now.  

Two raw salmon fillets isolated on white background. Olive oil, lemon and pepper complete the composition. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM.Animal Protein Sources

  • Turkey: 48 grams per 6 oz. 
  • Chicken: 46 grams per 6 oz.
  • Pork loin: 46 grams per 6 oz
  • Halibut: 42 grams per 6 oz.
  • Steak: 42 grams per 6 oz.
  • Shrimp: 40 grams per 6 oz.
  • Tuna: 40 grams per 6 oz.
  • Salmon: 34 grams per 6 oz.
  • Egg: 6 grams per large egg

Edamame or soybeans on white background - isolatedPlant Protein Sources

  • Lentils: 18 grams per cup
  • Edamame: 17 grams per cup
  • Chickpeas: 15 grams per cup
  • Peas: 8 grams per cup
  • Quinoa: 8 grams per cup
  • Tofu: 8 grams per 3 oz.
  • Spinach: 5 grams per cup
  • Avocado: 4 grams per avocado
  • Guava: 4 grams per cup
  • Brussels sprouts: 3 grams per cup
  • Sweet potato: 3 grams per potato
  • Green beans: 2 grams per cup

Replacements for Protein Powders in Smoothies 

  • Almond butter: 4 grams per tbsp.
  • Spirulina: 4 grams per tbsp.
  • Hemp seeds: 4 grams per tbsp.
  • Sunflower seed butter: 4 grams per tbsp.
  • Chia seeds: 3 grams per tbsp.
  • Ground flax seed: 2 grams per tbsp.

Crispy Tofu Over Garlicky Kale and Edamame. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Crispy Tofu Over Garlicky Kale and Edamame


  • 8 oz. extra-firm tofu 
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup thawed frozen edamame, shelled 
  • 2 cups kale, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Pinch of sea salt flakes 


Press tofu between paper towels and allow to rest for as long as possible to release liquid. Slice tofu into 2-inch sticks and sprinkle with garlic salt. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron pan. Over medium-high heat, cook tofu sticks for 4 minutes on each side. Set aside.  

Using a cast-iron skillet, add remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, edamame, kale, and garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. Finish with lemon juice. Transfer to plate and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Add crispy tofu sticks.

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast Over Green Bean-Tomato Medley. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast Over Green Bean-Tomato Medley


  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt and lemon wedge to finish


Rinse and pat dry the chicken breast thoroughly. Sprinkle chicken breast with garlic salt. Using a cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken breast and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Set aside. 

Using a lidded sauté pan, add green beans, water, and remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. 

Turn heat to medium-high and steam cook for 5 minutes with lid on. Remove lid, add garlic, shallot, and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Finish with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and toss to combine. Transfer to a plate and top with the chicken breast. Finish with sea salt and garnish with a lemon wedge. 

4 Lunch Ideas for Kids

1. Banana rollups: Spread 2 tbsp. sunflower seed butter evenly onto a tortilla, place a banana near the edge, roll it up, and slice into bite-size rounds. 

2. Hummus and veggies: Serve 4 tbsp. of hummus with carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and pretzels.

3. Guacamole with veggies and chips: Combine an avocado with 1 tbsp. lime juice, half a garlic clove (grated), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. minced cilantro, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Serve with veggies and chips. 

4. Trail mix: Combine dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, and freeze-dried berries.

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