It’s close to impossible to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way without focusing on getting enough protein in your daily diet. For one, protein helps you feel satiated for longer periods of time and reduces your hunger hormones. Protein also has a higher TEF (thermic effect of food) than fat or carbohydrates, meaning your body burns more calories when you eat it. And on top of that, protein can help you build muscle mass.
Even though eating enough protein is crucial for healthy weight loss, the quality of your protein matters a lot as well, especially because there are plenty of low-quality, nutrient-scarce proteins out there.
Read on to learn about the best and worst proteins for losing weight, and for more healthy weight loss tips make sure to check out Our Dietitians Swear By These Weight Loss Tips.
If you’re a fan of seafood, you may want to consider adding more fatty fish like salmon to your weight loss plan.
“A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help promote satiety among certain populations, and salmon is one of the best sources of this healthy fat,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, author of The First Time Mom’s Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility. “Data shows that the inclusion of fish, like salmon, as part of an energy-restricted diet resulted in weight loss after 4 weeks vs. a similar diet without seafood, highlighting that the addition of seafood to a nutritionally balanced energy-restricted diet may boost weight loss.”
Try cooking this Sweet and Spicy Glazed Salmon with Roasted Veggies for a healthy, protein-packed dinner.
If you’re looking for a healthy protein powder to throw into a delicious shake, you may want to try whey protein.
“Whey protein can boost fullness quickly, as it contains all the essential amino acids and is absorbed quickly in the body,” says Courtney D’Angelo, MS, RD, author at Go Wellness. “There have been numerous studies conducted with whey protein and weight loss, with most studies concluding that whey protein reduces fat and increases lean muscle mass. It has also been found that whey protein helps you stay full longer and reduces food cravings throughout the day.”
The main difference between whey protein and many other types of protein powder is that whey protein has dairy, so you can try a plant-based powder if you’re dairy-free.
Because lentils are technically grain legumes (also known as pulses), people may not think of them as a high-protein food. But lentils are a good source of protein and other helpful vitamins and nutrients.
“Eating lentils can give the body a boost of fiber, antioxidants, and important micronutrients, and data shows that eating lentils can help people lose weight, even when diets are not calorie restricted,” says Manaker. “Subbing out lentils for fatty meat choices can be an approachable way to support weight loss.”
Another popular type of protein powder is casein protein, which D’Angelo says is also great for helping you with your weight loss goals.
“Casein protein is very similar to whey protein in that it’s also milk-based and contains all the essential amino acids, but the major difference is that casein protein is absorbed slowly in the body,” says D’Angelo. “This means that you’ll be feeling fuller for a longer period of time compared to whey protein, and while casein protein is not as good for increasing muscle mass, it is more effective than many other protein sources.”
“Increasing daily consumption of nuts is associated with less long-term weight gain and a lower risk of obesity in adults, so replacing 0.5 servings a day of less healthful foods with nuts may help prevent long-term weight gain and obesity,” says Manaker.
When it comes to nuts, walnuts are known as being some of the best to help aid in weight loss efforts. “Consuming walnuts has been linked to increased satiety, which may help people lose weight in the long run,” says Manaker, “and walnuts are the only tree nut that is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid.”
You may not think of cottage cheese as a protein-heavy food, but choosing the right type of cottage cheese can give you a huge protein boost with very little fat and sugar.
In a standard cup of 2% cottage cheese, you’ll get over 24 grams of protein, with 5 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar from the lactose. If you want to add some natural flavors to it, you can add your favorite fruit or a drizzle of honey.
Worst Proteins for Weight Loss
Although protein foods can support weight loss, some are better than others. The following protein foods may not be the best foods to add to your diet if you’re looking to be healthier and lose weight.
“Many varieties of sausages can be loaded with saturated fat and can be highly caloric, factors that don’t help in the weight loss department,” says Manaker. In fact, “data also shows that consumption of ultra-processed foods, like many sausages, is linked to weight gain.”
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to red meat sausage, you can try a chicken or turkey sausage, or a plant-based sausage option. However, it’s still important to look at the nutrition label because even these products can be loaded with sodium, fat, and weird preservatives.
Just because something is labeled as a protein bar doesn’t mean it’s a nutritious choice. Many popular protein bars on the market are just loaded with added sugar, sodium, and fat. So yes, you’re getting a protein boost, but there are healthier protein options to snack on.
For example, a PowerBar Protein Plus Chocolate Brownie Bar is packed with 9 grams of fat, 330 calories, and 21 grams of sugar! So you’ll get 30 grams of protein with this bar, but at what cost?
One of the lesser-known protein powder varieties is rice protein. While some people on a plant-based diet may opt for this one, D’Angelo argues that it may not give you the best weight loss results.
“Rice protein may not be the best for weight loss because this plant-based protein is considered incomplete due to its low levels of the essential amino acid lysine,” says D’Angelo, “and most studies on rice protein have seen little to no muscle mass difference and very little weight loss results if any.”