As I discussed in a recent post, my diet tends to be higher in protein than it has been in years past. I rarely consume less than 100 grams of protein. Most days I am significantly higher, even if I only eat two meals. These meals focus primarily on protein, with vegetables playing a more supportive role.
After so many years on the Primal Diet, I am fully confident in my ability to eat intuitively. I trust my body to guide my meal-to-meal, day-to-day, and week-to-week nutritional decisions, so I don’t care about keeping track of macros (the exact amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat I eat each day eat). However, knowledge is power. You should at least have a sense of your protein and carbohydrate intake, even if you can.
However, most people have no idea what they are eating. Sure, you could read the nutritional information at the grocery store, but How many people know what 100-150 grams of protein looks like in relation to real food? Do you know how much protein is there in a single chicken breast? How about a six-ounce steak? Three eggs, a handful of nuts or even vegetables?
How to Measure Protein Intake
Protein is measured by the gram weight of the protein itself, not the total amount of food you eat. This is a common cause of confusion among people new to tracking their food. As you will see, four ounces of steak is different from four ounces of chicken breast or salmon in terms of protein. To determine how much protein a particular food contains, you need an app like Chronometer (my current favorite) plus a food scale for precision. Measure all meat raw and make sure you select the correct entry (raw or cooked) in your tracking app.
Even if you don’t want to weigh and measure all of your foods, just keep track of your protein intake for a few days. See what you’re making on average. In my experience, almost everyone eats less than they think, especially when they practice intermittent fasting. Once you have a good grasp of what it takes to meet your daily protein goal, it is up to you whether or not to keep pursuing.
I’ll save you some time, and I’ve provided protein data for a number of common foods below. All values are from Cronometer. You will immediately notice that this list includes both animal and vegetable sources of protein, including things like legumes and soy products that aren’t necessarily primal. Don’t take this to mean that I believe animal and vegetable sources of protein are equivalent. There is no question that animal proteins are superior in terms of bioavailability and amino acid profiles. However, our primal community includes people who describe themselves as plant-based, vegetarian or even vegan. I want you to get enough protein from the best possible sources too. I’ve covered the issue of plant-based nutrition in detail opposite to Primal Blueprint recommendations in the past. Scroll to the bottom of the post for more information on the topic.
How much protein is there in meat?
Raw meat values by weight.
4 oz. Ground beef, 85% lean: 21 grams
Ground turkey, 93% lean (4 oz.): 21 grams
Boneless Chicken Breasts (4 oz.): 26 grams
Boneless Chicken Legs (4 oz.): 23 grams
Turkey Breast (4 oz.): 26 grams
Pork Chop (4 oz.): 25 grams
Pork Shoulder (4 oz.): 21 grams
Steak, New York Strips (4 oz.): 25 grams
Steak, Ribeye (4 oz.): 22 grams
Ham (4 oz.): 23 grams
Game meat (4 oz.): 24 grams
Beef liver (4 oz.): 23 grams
Beef Heart (4 oz.): 21 grams
Beef tongue (4 oz.): 20 grams
Protein in seafood
Tuna, Fresh (4 oz.): 28 grams
Salmon (4 oz.): 25 grams
Pollack (4 oz.): 22 grams
Trout (4 oz.): 23 grams
Oysters (4 oz.): 11 grams
Prawns (4 oz.): 15 grams
Canned tuna (1 5-oz. Can): 36 grams
Canned Sardines (1 4.4-ounce can): 17 grams
Protein in common dairy products
Cottage cheese, full fat, plain (1 cup): 23 grams
Cottage cheese, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 22 grams
Greek yogurt, full fat, plain (1 cup): 22 grams
Greek yogurt, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 25 grams
Whole milk (1 cup): 8 grams
Skimmed milk (1 cup): 8 grams
Whipped cream (2 tbsp): 1 gram
Cheddar cheese (1 ounce): 7 grams
Swiss cheese (1 oz.): 8 grams
Cream Cheese, Full Fat (1 oz.): 2 grams
Are Eggs High In Protein?
Chicken egg (1 large): 6 grams
Duck egg (1): 9 grams
Quail egg (1): 1 gram
Vegetable protein: legumes and soy
Tofu, firm (4 oz.): 14 grams
Tempeh (4 oz.): 23 grams
Natto (4 oz.): 22 grams
Lentils (1/2 cup cooked): 9 grams
Peas (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Black beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Kidney beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Pinto beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Chickpeas, also known as chickpeas (1/2 cup cooked): 7 grams
Green peas (1/2 cup): 4 grams
Nuts and seeds
Peanut butter (2 tbsp): 7 grams
Almond butter (2 tbsp): 7 grams
Almonds (1 ounce): 6 grams
Cashews (1 ounce): 5 grams
Macadamias (1 ounce): 2 grams
Walnuts (1 oz.): 4 grams
Chia seeds (1 ounce): 5 grams
Flaxseed (1 oz.): 5 grams
Hemp seeds (1 oz.): 9 grams
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 9 grams
Sesame seeds (1 oz.): 6 grams
Sunflower seeds (1 ounce): 6 grams
Fruits and vegetables with the most protein
Spirulina powder (2 tbsp): 12 grams
Brussels sprouts (1 cup): 4 grams
Broccoli florets (1 cup): 3 grams
Asparagus (4 large stalks): 2 grams
Green beans (1 cup): 2 grams
Spinach, raw (1 cup): 1 gram
White potatoes (1 medium): 4 grams
Sweet potatoes (1 medium): 2 grams
Blackberries (1 cup): 2 grams
Guava (1 fruit): 1-2 grams
Gluten-free ancient grains, pseudo-grains, grasses
Teff (1/2 cup cooked): 5 grams
Amaranth (1/2 cup cooked): 5 grams
Quinoa (1/2 cup cooked): 4 grams
Wild rice (1/2 cup cooked): 3 grams
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the proteins you might be eating. Protein powders, especially whey protein, are convenient and usually highly bioavailable sources of essential amino acids. I didn’t include them here as the protein content varies by brand, but you can usually expect 20-30 grams per serving. I also avoided the bevy of fake meat alternatives. This is partly because they also vary greatly in protein supply, but most of all, many of them contain objectionable ingredients so I cannot list them here with a clear conscience.
Finally, let me plug in one more plug to seriously consider insects as an option. Unless you grew up in a culture that loved insects as a staple food, you’re probably shaking your head right now, but insects score big for both sustainability and nutrition!
You can find tons of fantastic protein-centric meal ideas in our recipe collection.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a minimum of 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of lean body mass for overall health. For muscle building, research suggests that 0.8 g / lb (1.6 g / kg) of body weight is a good goal.
How Much Protein is Too Much?
There really isn’t a cap, although at some point you will start seeing diminishing returns. The myth that you shouldn’t be consuming more than 30 grams of protein at once because your body can absorb it is just that – a myth.
Is Protein Powder Good For You?
While I generally recommend opting for whole foods first, protein powders can provide convenient meal replacement or snack options. Whey protein is the most bioavailable. Although it is made from dairy products, many people with lactose intolerance can tolerate whey protein powder.
Best Vegan Protein Sources?
It’s extremely difficult to be both vegan and primal. Most vegan-friendly foods that contain non-negligible protein are borderline at best. That said, all kinds of legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as teff, quinoa, amaranth, and vegan protein powders are your best choices.
Thank You For Reading!