Proteins are a very important macro-nutrient which should be included in every meal. But you can be confused on which proteins are healthy due to the conflicting advice you’ll find online.
To end the confusion and find out the healthiest proteins, I asked 39 nutrition experts and prolific bloggers this simple question.
“If you could eat protein from 3 sources only, what would these sources be?”
Before we go any further I would like to clarify that I’m not advocating you eat protein from 3 sources only; the point was to find out the healthiest proteins according to these experts.
It’s hardly possible to be healthy and lose weight without regularly consuming proteins; eating healthy proteins will improve your health and help you attain your ideal body weight. And I can’t forget to mention how important proteins are for building muscles.
Here is a tally of the experts’ preferences. Note that some gave food categories as protein sources e.g seafood, while others more specific e.g salmon. To avoid distortion of information I have tallied the votes as they came, this means seafood and fish will be tallied separately, the same thing with beef and steak or fish and salmon.
#1. Eggs – 22 votes
#2. Chicken – 14 votes
#3. Grass fed beef – 11 votes
#4. Fish – 8 votes
#5. Salmon (most prefer wild caught) – 7 votes
#6. Steak and Whey protein tied – 6 votes each
#7. Beans – 4 votes
#8. Seafood, shellfish and Trout tied – 2 votes each
#9. Legumes, Any ruminant, Quest bar, Tuna, Red Meat, Ground Beef, Quinoa, Turkey, Brisket, Pork belly, Almonds, Venison, Peanut butter, Isagenix, Lentils, Casein, Dairy, Sardines, Bison, Lobster, emu and yoghurt all tied – 1 vote each
Scroll down to find out what each expert had to say about his/her preferences. You can also click on the names above for quick navigation.
Amy Stafford – A Healthy Life For Me
Protein is a big part of my healthy lifestyle. Not only the type I choose but the quality as well.
Eggs are a huge part of my diet. I have my own free-range hens that supply me with the highest quality of organic eggs possible, so I enjoy them often.
I don’t eat my own hens, but I do enjoy organic cage free chicken breasts several times throughout the week. My favorite way to enjoy it is on a salad or in soups.
Lastly grass fed beef shows up at least once a week at my dinner table. I tend to go for a grilled strip steak, but during the cold winter months I like to make up a batch of beef stew to keep me warm.
Anthony Mychal – AnthonyMychal.com
White chicken because it’s low in everything except protein. Means you can add a lot of cheese and not care. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Eggs. At least six every day. If you need a reason, you’ve forgotten the face of your father.
Ground beef. It’s cheap, as is every selection I make. Because I’m a cheap guy.
Ben Greenfield – BenGreenfieldFitness.com
Wild trout from a very cold mountain lake – where the fish must build insulation and are hence chock full of fatty acids.
Organic, grass-fed beef for the extremely high amounts of iron, creatine, conjugated linoleum acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
Eggs from my backyard chickens for quick, sustainable sources of absorbable protein high in fat-soluble vitamins.
Ben Pakulski – BenPakulski.com
I would do more than 3 for sure to make sure you cover your amino acids in different amounts.
It is ok to do for a time, but there is so much you would be missing out on – eggs, meats (red), etc.
Bo Duncan – Three Diets One Dinner
Brisket, salmon, pork belly.
Brad Pilon – Eat Stop Eat
Chris Kresser – ChrisKresser.com
Coach Kozak – HASfit
Contreras Bret – BretContreras.com
I’d go with whey, casein, and eggs. I love eating eggs at any meal, I love my protein shakes, I don’t have much time to cook, and each of the three choices rank very high in terms of biological value.
Darren Beattie – Fettle Fitness
I’d never limit myself to only 3 sources and I’d never recommend anyone do that either. No point in recommending eggs to a vegan or soy to a bodybuilder, the context is completely different and necessary for me to ever make a real recommendation.
I don’t like to give people the idea that they aren’t going to get a benefit because they are eating rice and beans instead of whey or casein.
As long as someone optimizes their intake, it aligns with their values, it meets them where they are at socio-economically, it supports their objectives and provides variety, then I don’t think the source really matters as much as the overall intake.
Darren Stehle – Eat Move Be
While there may be recommended protein choices based on measures like bio-availability, I don’t agree with limiting your protein to only three sources.
Instead of limiting food choices, which can create a host of health issues, the better question to ask, is, ”What is healthy eating for me?” I’ve answered this in my article, “What is Healthy Eating.”
Choosing to eat any macro food source (i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, fats) depends on a number of factors including: personal preference; allergies (e.g. shellfish, peanuts); geographic location (in season or greenhouse-grown), and; quality of production (e.g. organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, hormone and pesticide free).
To tell one person what he or she should eat is the wrong approach. While you may want to pick your top three favourite proteins, make that choice based on your individual health and fitness needs.
Darren lives in Toronto and works as a personal trainer, nutrition coach, & private cooking instructor. He’s the author of “Cook a Week of Meals in 4 Hours” and operates EatMoveBe.com to help busy people stay fit and healthy.
Davida Kugelmass – The Healthy Maven
If I had to choose 3 protein sources they would be seafood (fish, shellfish, mollusks etc…), eggs and chicken. Mostly for taste, but also out of convenience because they are all easy to cook and versatile foods.
Emily Dingmann – A Nutritionist Eats
If I had to choose (SO hard!) I’d say eggs, lentils and fish. In addition to protein, you’re also getting some healthy fats and fiber!
Georgette Pann – TheFitnessBootcampClub.com
Chicken, turkey and fish…just out of taste preference and /or a shake if time crunched
Jan Graham – Live A Little, Life and Wellness Coaching
I have to confess my honest answer would be: Egg whites (the doctored kind that are yellow because the white kind creep me out; they have lots of protein and are low cal so I can eat a massive egg/veggie scramble without doing too much damage); broiled trout, a new fave now that Trader Joes carries fressh trout, and, um, Quest bars. Which are an embarrassing convenience food but they taste like cookies to me and I’m totally addicted. I am a health blogger but NOT always a health role model I’m afraid. 🙂
Jared Beckstrand – Tone and Tighten
1. Chicken – so easy to prepare in so many delicious ways! From grilled and cubed on top of a salad to the main dish alongside steamed veggies, chicken is definitely my go-to!
2. Beans – Again, so good on so many meals. Also adds some much-needed fiber to my diet!
3. Whey protein powder – One scoop every morning with my breakfast smoothie to start the day off strong! I try to eat some protein with every meal – this is an easy and convenient way to add it to breakfast without adding a ton of calories or fat.
Jason Ferruggia – JasonFerruggia.com
Grass fed beef
Wild caught salmon
Jason Fitzgerald – Strength Running
1. Wild fish for lean protein and healthy fats (wild since its higher quality with fewer contaminants).
2. Grass-fed beef for its healthier fat profile and iron (helps prevent anemia).
3. Beans for its combination of protein, carbohydrate, and fiber.
John Berardi – John Berardi Golf Academy
Josef Rakich – Josef Rakich Fitness
3 protein sources of choice.
2) Whey protein
Katie Wellness Mama – Wellness Mama
Kellie Davis – Get Glutes
When in a crunch, you can’t go wrong with whey protein, eggs, or milk. These proteins are the most bioavailable, which means they are easy to digest and use (sans any allergies or intolerances) and they are quick and easy to use.
When it comes to taste, I choose beef, which is also pretty high on the list when it comes to bioavailability.
Kris Gunnars – Authority Nutrition
“If I could choose only 3, then it would be whole eggs, beef and salmon. All these foods are highly nutrient dense, and also happen to taste really good.”
Luke Durward – LukeDurward.com
Mark McManus – Muscle Hack
According to Mark’s article his top three are:
(1) Whey Protein
(2) Eggs (whole)
(3) Red Meat
Mike Campbell – Fat Guy Diary
Great question! Made me think, but not long.
My 3 favorite sources of protein are eggs, peanut butter, and high protein meal replacement shakes (Isagenix)!
Eggs are a great source of protein, vitamins, choline, and healthy fats. The choline is a nutrient that is used to build cell membranes and helps in producing signaling molecules in the brain. They also raise your HDL or GOOD cholesterol. And eggs are versatile! You can use them boiled, to build omelets, or in many recipes!
Peanut butter, especially natural or organic, is a great source of protein and healthy fat. I love to spread a couple of table spoons on a low carb/high protein wrap for an on the go meal/snack. It is great in a shake and adds great nutrition and taste to other recipes. I have to be honest, I REALLY need to watch myself with peanut butter because it is easy for me to go overboard with peanut butter!
High protein meal replacement shakes are a GO TO for me and my wife. We do one, sometimes two, shakes a day with high quality undenatured whey protein. We are big proponents of using Isagenix to fill this need. The protein is sourced from New Zealand cows that are grass fed and are not given drugs and hormones. They ‘undenatured’ whey keeps the protein intact for consumption. We have found it great for muscle growth, maintenance, and repair. This is important to us since we are both 58 years old and probably in the best shape of our lives NOW!
Like I said, you made me think and these are definitely my top 3! It’s all about healthy lifestyle habits!
Mike Matthews – Muscle For Life
Fish because it’s a great source of omega 3s.
Chicken because it’s lean and can be prepared in a million different ways.
A seed like quinoa because it’s also packed full of nutrients and a great source of carbohydrate.
Mike Samuels – Healthy Living, Heavy Lifting
Egg whites, sirloin steak and protein powder. Because I enjoy them!
Molly Galbraith – MollyGalbraith.com
Nia Shanks – NiaShanks.com
If I could only pick three I’d say chicken, fish, and eggs. That way you get a good mix of nutrients and fat and protein.
Nick Meyer – AltHealthWorks.com
Here is my answer:
“When it comes to protein there is a lot of misinformation out there, but more importantly a lot of people, especially workout warriors quote-unquote, get it from unclean sources. Chicken breast of the factory farmed and GMO fed variety (ie most of it) is especially unhealthy in the long term, and is far from an ideal protein source if you’re looking for optimal health.
Most whey proteins on the market are also packed full of heavy metals and toxins including aspartame and sucralose, although there are some good 100% grass fed options out there.
As far as my picks, I would probably go with: grass-fed beef, wild caught salmon (from a pure source), and pastured eggs.
I avoided buying any animal products for quite a while but I did not fare well on the diet; since then I’ve learned a lot more about the Weston A. Price type of approach and it has worked better for me especially in Michigan where seasonal produce from high quality soil is so rare.
Grass fed beef is a very clean form of protein and cattle have a diet much preferable to what chickens eat. As for salmon I would go with sockeye because it is low in heavy metals like mercury and other toxins; try to find it from a clean water source and only buy wild caught!
Finally, eggs are pretty much the perfect source of protein in terms of cost effectiveness, abundance and ease of eating/use. They got a bad rap due to the demonization of all fats but research is now showing just how nutrition and protein packed a pastured egg can be!
If you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian options I’d be very careful to only find the absolute BEST soil for your food (find a local farmer who does it right) because it is easy to have deficiencies unless you eat a LOT as a vegan or vegetarian. Beans, quinoa, and even wild lettuces are some of my favorite vegetable sources of protein.
Richard Nikoley – Free The Animal
1. Any Ruminant (nose to tail).
2. Any Seafood (including shellfish).
If I had a 4th choice it would be fowl.
For me it’s simple. Ruminants and seafood covers the entire globe except its atmosphere. Legumes are the richest plant source.
Robb Wolf – RobbWolf.com
Sam Lomeli – Tips of The Scale
Happy to contribute. Here are my favorites, in order of preference:
1. Frozen chicken breast. Chicken has one of the highest protein-per-serving ratios of any food, and it can be prepared in tons of creative ways so I don’t get tired of it.
2. Eggs. Eggs have one of the highest bio-availability levels of any food, they’re loaded with nutrients, and as a male – I know that I need the selenium, vitamin A and vitamin E they contain. Eggs are a protein and nutrient power-house.
3. Pinto beans. Beans have one of the highest protein-per-dollar ratios of any staple food in the grocery store. Sometimes my 2 year-old son doesn’t want chicken again, but I can always count on him to eat his beans.
Honorable mention goes to whey protein powder. As someone who strength trains, it’s difficult on busy days to meet my daily protein targets. Adding a protein shake (with raspberries, a banana or apple for the fiber) is an easy way to meet my macro targets.
Samantha Milner – My Weight Loss Dream
For me my favourite three sources of protein are:
I love chicken because of how versatile it can be and that it can be used in a whole range of dishes. I will often get some chicken out of the freezer the night before and then decide on impulse how I wish to have it.
Another reason that I would always choose chicken is because it is very easy to use it as a base of a dish without any fat and at the same time not feel the need to add carbs. For example one of my favourite meals is steamed broccoli served with steamed chicken and a mustard sauce made with fat free natural yoghurt.
Chicken is also very reasonably priced and comes with a lot of nutrients that should be part of a balanced diet. Even if you can just have it twice a week, it can make a big difference to your health.
There is also 30g of protein in one chicken breast making it very good for getting in your protein allowance.
I am also a big fan of tuna and this provides around 22g per fillet of protein. We get this every week fresh from the fish counter at our local supermarket and then serve it with steamed vegetables for lunch.
What I love about tuna is that you can have it in so many different meals and even if you are having a naughty meal you know you are still getting nutrients from the tuna.
Whether you are on your own and cooking for one, or providing a big tuna pasta bake for the family you know that you have made a good health choice.
What can I say about yoghurt other than to say that I absolutely love it! It can go in all kinds of meals and be used as a replacement for cream and oils in sauces. Not just that though, yoghurt is also an excellent source of calcium meaning that you can then get more than one use out of it.
I use Greek yoghurt in my soups and smoothies and it also makes an excellent alternative to milk. Just by using this as a source of your protein and your calcium you can knock thousands of calories a year off your current intake.
These three are my favourite types of protein and they are easily available for everyone and are not overpriced. They are perfect for a healthy diet and if I just had three sources of protein for the rest of my life these will be what I would choose.
Steve Kamb – NerdFitness
Chicken, a nice grass fed filet, and almonds. Cheers!
Tony Gentilcore – TonyGentilcore.com
Tyler Bramlett – Garage Warrior
I would choose:
1) Grass Fed Beef
2) Wild Caught Salmon
3) Eggs (Provided people can tolerate them)
Many others are great as well but these are the easiest to come by and generally are the healthiest 🙂
Vic Magary – VicMagary.com
Here are my top 3 protein sources: steak, eggs, salmon. Ideally from the best sources available (grass fed, free range, organic, wild caught, etc.).
There you have it, healthy proteins sources according to 39 nutrition experts.
As you can see most experts have common preferences and the list gives you a wide variety of healthy protein sources.
I would like to say big THANK YOU to the 39 experts who contributed to this post. Thanks for sharing your favourite healthy proteins with us, and thanks for your time!
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If you could eat protein from 3 sources only, what would these sources be?