The benefits of eating protein for healthy and achievable weight loss

  • 6 Minutes Read
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Protein, protein, protein seems to be everywhere; are there additional benefits of eating protein as part of a healthy diet? Read about how protein is vital for weight loss. Learn how MyNetDiary calculates your protein needs and discover rich protein sources to add to your diet.

Benefits of eating protein

Want to learn about the benefits of eating protein?

Dietary protein is critical to health because of the amino acids or building blocks that make up proteins. We use amino acids for growth and development, cell generation, hormone and enzyme building, and other functions like supporting a healthy immune system! Eating protein daily is vital for ensuring a healthy body.

You can meet your daily protein needs from both plant and animal foods. Animal proteins (meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs, and dairy) are "complete," meaning they provide all the essential amino acids needed to build proteins.

Some animal proteins are also high in calories due to fat content. Choose lean cuts, trim excess fat, and avoid deep-fat frying to ensure you reap the benefits of protein-rich foods without the extra calories.

Tip: Coldwater fish and seafood are excellent protein choices since they also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Plant-based proteins, such as dried beans and peas (legumes), soybeans, nuts, seeds, and grains, are typically rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Yet, they are low in one or more essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. Eat a variety of plant proteins throughout the day to ensure that you get enough of each essential amino acid. Also, eating small amounts of animal protein with plant protein makes a complete protein.

Plant sources of protein are typically high in either carbs (legumes, grains) or fats (nuts and seeds). If you are looking for a healthy protein choice for weight loss and follow a plant-based diet, plan your proteins to stay within your calorie budget. If you are watching carbs, note that some plant proteins will add to your carb intake.

Tip: Legumes support healthy gut bacteria and are weight-friendly and blood sugar-friendly.

To reap the benefits of eating protein, how much do I need?

Macronutrient target

Since most MyNetDiary members are trying to lose weight or manage blood sugar, we use a macronutrient target to encourage healthy proteins and fats while controlling carbs.

MyNetDiary's default recommendation for protein is 20% of total daily calories, within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range of 10 - 35% of total calories.

Macronutrient DRI: Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges MyNetDiary Goal
Fat20-35% of total calories35% of total calories
Carbohydrate45-65% of total calories45% of total calories
Protein10-35% of total calories20% of total calories

If you prefer a different macronutrient target, customize your goals with a Premium MyNetDiary membership.

Bodyweight protein target

You can also plan your protein needs based on your body weight. The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or about .36 g per pound) daily.

For example, for someone weighing 180 lbs. (82 kg), their RDA for protein is 65 grams (82 kg x 0.8 g/kg).

Tip: Divide pounds by 2.2 to get kg.

The modest RDA target may be too low for some. Many reduced-calorie weight-loss plans suggest 1.2-1.5 g per kg. Athletes, older adults and those trying to build muscle may also benefit from intake higher than the RDA. Read here for more information on starting a higher protein plan.

For certain kidney and liver conditions, you may need to limit your protein intake. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about your diet and follow their specific nutrition advice.

What does protein do for weight loss?

To achieve weight-loss success, you must meet your protein needs every day. Since protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, you will likely stay full longer if you eat protein at each meal. When you eat enough protein and implement a consistent strength-training routine, you have a better chance of preserving muscle mass as you lose weight.

It is possible to overeat protein. Make sure not to go overboard. If you exceed your calorie budget by eating too much protein, you may gain weight.

Tip: Aim for at least 60g/day of protein while on a reduced-calorie diet.

Getting the most protein for the fewest calories

Listed in order of the fewest calories per gram of protein, protein sources below will help you find the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

Egg whites, ⅔ cup (164g)
Calories: 89
Protein: 18g
Calories per gram of protein: 4.9
Also provides: riboflavin, selenium

Chicken breast, skinless, grilled, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 128
Protein: 26g
Calories per gram of protein: 4.9
Also provides: niacin, selenium, vitamin B6

Tilapia, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 109
Protein: 22g
Calories per gram of protein: 5.0
Also provides: niacin, selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D

Plain Greek yogurt, nonfat, 6 oz. (170g)
Calories: 100
Protein: 17g
Calories per gram of protein: 5.9
Also provides: calcium, riboflavin, selenium, vitamin B6

Beef, bottom round, trimmed, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 144
Protein: 24g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.0
Also provides: iron, niacin, selenium, vitamins B12 and B6, zinc

Seitan (wheat gluten), 3 oz. (85 g)
Calories: 134
Protein: 22g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.1
Also provides: iron, zinc

Pork tenderloin, lean, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 159
Protein: 26g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.1
Also provides: riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12

Salmon, wild Coho, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 156
Protein: 23g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.8
Also provides: niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D

Cottage cheese, 2%, 1/2 cup (113g)
Calories: 92
Protein: 12g
Calories per gram of protein: 7.7
Also provides: calcium, riboflavin, selenium, vitamin B12

Tofu, extra firm, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 71
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 8.9
Also provides: calcium, iron, selenium

Tempeh, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 166
Protein: 17g
Calories per gram of protein: 9.8
Also provides: copper, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin

Milk, nonfat (skim), 1 cup (245g)
Calories: 83
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 10.4
Also provides: calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D

Hamburger, ground 80/20, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 208
Protein: 20g
Calories per gram of protein: 10.4
Also provides: iron, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12, zinc

Soy milk, plain, fortified, 1 cup (240 ml)
Calories: 81
Protein: 7g
Calories per gram of protein: 11.6
Also provides: calcium, copper, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D

Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup (100g)
Calories: 113
Protein: 9g
Calories per gram of protein: 12.6
Also provides: copper, fiber, folate, iron, manganese

Egg, hard-boiled, one large
Calories: 78
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 13.0
Also provides: choline, riboflavin, selenium, vitamin B12

Beyond Burger meatless patty, 4 oz. (113g)
Calories: 260
Protein: 20g
Calories per gram of protein: 13.0
Also provides: iron, potassium

Pumpkin seeds toasted, hulled, 1 oz. (28g)
Calories: 157
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 19.6
Also provides: copper, iron, magnesium, manganese

Almonds, 1 oz (28g)
Calories: 162
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 27
Also provides: copper, riboflavin, magnesium, manganese, vitamin E

Hummus (chickpea and sesame paste), 1/3 cup (85g)
Calories: 198
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 33
Also provides: copper, fiber, manganese, vitamin B6

Sample day's worth of protein

Getting enough protein should not be a problem for either meat eaters or vegetarians. Here's a list of protein-rich foods that provide at least 60 total grams of protein in a day.

Meat Eater Vegan
1 hard boiled egg (6g)
1 container fruit Greek yogurt (13g)
3 oz chicken breast (26g)
3 oz salmon (20g)
1 cup cooked steel cut oats (7g)
1 cup soy milk (7g)
3 oz extra firm tofu (8g)
1/3 cup cooked quinoa (3g)
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (4g)
1/2 c chickpeas (7g)
2 corn tortillas (3g)
1/3 cup black beans (5g)
3 oz seitan (18g)

If you have questions about the material covered in this article, post them in our Community Forum.

Reviewed and updated on March 12, 2021 by Sue Heikkinen MS, RDN, CDCES

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Mar 17, 2021

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