• Health and Wellness

    How To Find High Quality Protein Foods And Protein Powders


    Perhaps you’ve been told (or have heard from others) the importance of having quality protein in your diet and to aim for consuming a high protein diet. Have you ever wondered what protein even is and why it is important? Or, what happens to protein in your body? More importantly, how to find healthy whole foods and protein powders that are high quality? In this blog post, we break down all of these questions and cut the confusion so you can spend less time scratching your head, and more time improving your health!

    high protein foods

    What Is Protein?

    In your body, protein is important for forming your tissues, keeping them maintained, replacing them as necessary, and encouraging your tissues to grow and build. You use protein for energy if you do not get enough calories elsewhere in your body.

    Protein is made up of nitrogen, peptides, and amino acids.

    Did you know… roughly 98% of our body’s nitrogen stores are found in protein!?

    When we have a healthy store of nitrogen in our body, we can focus on growth and building. When we have a low store of nitrogen in our body, we begin to break down protein in order to replenish the deficit.

    Human proteins are composed of 20 different kinds of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

    Nine amino acids are “essential” amino acids (EAAs) because our body is unable to build them from scratch on its own.

    We depend on consuming protein in our diet that contain these precious 9 amino acids. The remaining amino acids that our body can create are referred to as non-essential amino acids.

    If we over consume protein, our body does not store the excess protein like it does with fat and carbohydrates. Therefore, extra protein is broken down and the nitrogen component is excreted in our feces (aka, poop!).

    On average, the USDA recommends consuming 0.8g/kg/day for a healthy adult.

    However, always check with your healthcare provider on how much protein you should be consuming daily- especially if you have:

    • Kidney disease
    • An acute illness
    • Weight loss surgery
    • Burn injuries
    • Open wounds
    • Certain GI conditions
    • Liver disease etc… as your daily intake will vary.
    high protein foods

    What Happens To Protein In Your Body?

    When you eat foods that contain protein, the food rich in protein empties into your stomach, travels through the small intestines, continues into the large intestines, and then becomes excreted in your feces.

    When protein reaches the small intestine, the gut bacteria that live there breaks down the protein into its individual building blocks- amino acids- and gobbles some of it up for its own use of energy and food.

    Additionally, as protein travels through your gut (depending on how fast or slow it travels), some of the protein is converted into glucose (sugar) and some of it is fermented.

    The remaining protein that “survives” your small intestine then continues into the large intestine to continue to be absorbed and utilized for the rest of the body. 

    Ideally, your body wants to consume protein, break it down easily, absorb it efficiently, and build new proteins out of the amino acids. This concept refers to a proteins’ bioavailability

    Want a shopping list of high quality protein foods?

    Grab your shopping list ready to print and use it! Get now your FREE Protein Foods List.

    Actually, there are 2 FDA scores that rank how “bioavailable” a protein is in your body. One scale is called the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).

    This Score also looks at how many amino acids make up a protein as well. The downfall of this Score is that it tends to overestimate the bioavailability of a protein.

    In comparison, the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) is more accurate.

    In theory, these Scores are helpful to estimate the bioavailability of proteins. But in real life, you are typically eating a complex diet of different protein sources with other macronutrients, fiber, and on both full and empty stomachs.

    Bottom line with these 2 FDA Scoring systems?

    There are lots of confounding variables that make it hard to truly predict how much protein your body is breaking down, absorbing, building, and excreting. Essentially- take these Scores with a grain of salt.

    High Protein Foods

    Amino Acids– The Building Blocks Of Protein

    Proteins are made of amino acids- some of which your body can make on its own, others it cannot. The amino acids that you need to consume in your diet that your body cannot make are called essential amino acids (EAAs)

    EAAs that are important for growing muscle are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). 

    There are a few specifically well known amino acids that serve some pretty important roles:

    • Arginine = helps build collagen and promotes wound healing
    • Leucine = helps with growth- especially muscles!
    • Glutamine = is helpful in a wide range of processes-especially anti-oxidant properties (which will help boost your immune system and repair DNA damage)
    high protein foods

    What Are The Benefits Of High Quality Protein?

    There are a lot of health benefits that come with consuming a diet rich in high quality protein. A higher protein diet focuses on at least 20% of your diet coming from protein (actually, the USDA recommends a range of 10-35% for adults).

    By consuming a diet higher in protein, you are better able to achieve a healthy, well-nourished lifestyle that comes with many health benefits!

    Well-nourished adults are:

    • Less likely to be predisposed to disease
    • More likely to have improved wound healing and disease outcomes by:
      • Improving your immune system
      • Improving your ability for the body to recover from an infection
    • Able to build muscle
    • Increase mobility
    • Less likely to fall
    • Less likely to develop venous thromboembolism (DVT) – blood clots
    • Less likely to develop pressure ulcers

    Not to mention… protein helps you feel fuller, longer (compared to the other macronutrients: fat & carbohydrates), improving your odds of eating less calories overall in a day!

    Simply put, prioritizing protein in your diet can improve your nutritional state, help you recover from illness, reduce your risk of complications, save you money (less hospital bills!!), and get you out of the hospital faster or altogether!

    What Are The Different Types Of Proteins?

    There are many different types of proteins. Examples include:

    • Milk
    • Pea
    • Rice
    • Soy
    • Whey
    • Animal

    Beef Protein

    Most animal proteins have all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

    Most animal proteins- but not all.

    Looking at beef protein powders specifically, you may assume that this kind of protein powder comes from the muscle of the cow. Actually, the protein is collected from collagen and is from the animal’s skin, bones, and other connective tissue. This collagen is boiled down and processed into a fine powder.

    While collagen protein is great for the health of your skin, joints, and bones, it doesn’t give us everything we need out of a protein source.

    Remember the BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) I mentioned earlier in the blog post? Collagen proteins do not have a strong stash of these important essential amino acids.

    Therefore, it is likely not going to be your best ally if you’re hitting the gym and looking to grow muscle.

    However, beef collagen protein may be more beneficial in elderly women and men who are malnourished and struggling to increase their total protein intake for each day.

    Plant / Vegan Proteins

    While most animal proteins cover all of the essential amino acids, plant proteins– such as soy, pea, and rice- typically do not.


    They’re close, but they’re missing a few key amino acids important to your body.

    • Rice protein lacks a healthy stash of the amino acid lysine
    • Soy and pea proteins lack the amino acid methionine

    However- there’s a way to solve this problem! Proteins can complement each other!

    For example, a 70:30 blend of pea:rice proteins will help make up the deficits of the two amino acids listed above. 

    An important point to note about soy and pea protein powders: they are usually very high in salt due to how these powders are processed.

    Read your nutritional label to make sure your salt intake isn’t exceeding a healthy amount each day.

    Of the plant proteins mentioned above, soy has become the most popular vegan source of protein powder.


    Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking process; the water-soluble part of milk.

    Whey is a high-quality and well-absorbed protein source that helps build muscle (when combined with resistance training). In the short-term, it builds muscle to a higher degree than other protein sources. In the long-term, it evens out with its other protein competitors.

    If you are on a low-calorie diet, whey protein (at least in the short-term) will help you limit muscle loss.

    If you are on a high-calorie diet, whey protein can help limit fat gain.

    There are some drawbacks to consuming Whey Protein powders. By itself, whey has a very bitter taste. As a result, food manufacturers have to add highly processed ingredients to cover up this taste.

    Some of these ingredients include:

    • Sucralose (fake sugar)
    • Fructose (sugar)
    • Sucrose (sugar)
    • 5’AMP
    • 5’AMP disodium
    • Sodium acetate
    • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Table salt

    Therefore, while whey protein is a high quality and complete protein source, it is typically highly processed during the packaging process to make it tasty.

    Read your nutritional labels and always aim for ingredients that you understand, can pronounce, and hopefully have less than 10 ingredients on the list!

    Milk Protein

    Milk protein is found naturally in milk products and consists of whey and casein proteins (in a 20:80 ratio).

    Milk protein can be purchased in a powdered (supplement) form. A glass of milk is ~7-9g of protein compared to a scoop of supplemental milk protein which carries 20-24g of protein.

    high protein foods

    How Do You Know The Quality Of A Protein Powder?

    A protein is referred to as either “complete” or “incomplete” based on the number and quantity of essential amino acids (EAAs) it contains. 

    Below is a chart that evaluates the different kinds of proteins and the specific amino acid profiles in each.

    For a protein to be “complete”, ideally it would contain the required amount of EAAs (the 3rd column in bold font). Remember: our body cannot make EAAs on its own. We need to consume them from protein in our diet.

    From the chart, milk and whey protein sources look to be the most complete protein sources compared to pea, rice, and soy proteins.

    However- as mentioned previously- there are ways to blend “incomplete” proteins together to make sure you are acquiring all of the EAAs your body depends on.

    Other sources of protein bioavailability (ranked on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best):

    high protein foods

    In Conclusion

    When it comes to increasing your intake of high quality protein in your diet, ideally strive for whole foods.

    As a supplement, protein powders are fine to enjoy but be careful of highly processed ones that come with a ton of ingredients that are hard to pronounce (or that you don’t recognize), are high in sugar, artificial ingredients, and salt.

    Read your nutrition labels and look for protein powders that have a complete essential amino acid profile- making them quality protein sources.

    To make your shopping experience easier, enjoy this FREEBIE that lists whole foods rich in protein, and my top Go-To brands for clean & minimally processed protein powders!

    Want a shopping list of high quality protein foods?

    Grab your shopping list ready to print and use it! Get now your FREE Protein Foods List.


    “Whey Protein,” Examine.com, published on 12 January 2014, last updated on 7 May 2020, https://examine.com/supplements/whey-protein/

    “How can you assess protein quality?,” Examine.com, published on 24 April 2019, last updated on 15 April 2020,https://examine.com/nutrition/rating-proteins/

    “Milk Protein,” Examine.com, published on 7 August 2012, last updated on 14 June 2018, https://examine.com/supplements/milk-protein/

    “Overview of Nutrition” Adrienne Youdim, MD David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Reviewed May 2019. Merck Manual Professional Version.

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