Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

The 7 Best High-Protein Foods to Eat for Breakfast

Many traditional breakfast options—toast, cereal, bagels and pastries—are high in carbohydrates and low in protein. It’s understandable to reach for these foods, especially since carbs give you a quick energy boost. However, carbs are digested quickly, leaving you hungry again soon after. 

There are several benefits to adding protein at breakfast, including increased fullness and satisfaction. In addition, protein is needed for good overall health. “Protein makes up most of our cells, organs and muscles. The amount of protein we store constantly changes, so it’s best to spread your protein intake throughout the day to support your body’s needs,” says Patricia Kolesa, M.S., RDN, founder of Dietitian Dish LLC. And that starts with fitting in high-protein foods at breakfast.

We spoke with Kolesa and other nutrition experts about what protein-packed foods to eat more of and how to incorporate them in your morning meal.

Ali Redmond


Benefits of Eating Protein at Breakfast

Provides Long-Lasting Energy

Though carbs may give you that quick boost, protein sticks around. “Protein-rich foods take longer for our bodies to digest, which means they’ll keep us feeling full and satisfied longer than if we just reach for a piece of fruit for breakfast,” says Catherine Karnatz, M.P.H., RD, owner of Nutrition Education RD.

Since eating protein at breakfast keeps you feeling full and satisfied for longer, “protein can also minimize snacking before lunch and prevent overeating later in the day,” adds Lilian Nwora, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.

Aids in Managing Blood Sugar

Studies show that protein at breakfast helps manage blood sugar. “Eating protein at breakfast helps stabilize blood sugar levels and may prevent a midmorning crash and brain fog,” Nwora says. 

Even better: the benefits are long-lasting. “A high-protein breakfast has also been shown to reduce post-meal blood glucose levels after lunch and dinner,” adds Eliza Whitaker, M.S., RDN, a registered dietitian and medical nutrition advisor for Dietitian Insights. She also points out that minimizing spikes in blood sugar after meals can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Improves Heart Health

People who prioritize protein at breakfast tend to have better heart health. Some protein sources provide healthy unsaturated fats, promoting healthy cholesterol levels, so it’s important to choose protein foods wisely. Increasing protein at breakfast has been associated with lower blood pressure and increased HDL (good) cholesterol, says Sheri Gaw, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitian Insights.

Builds and Repairs Muscle

Eating protein at breakfast and throughout the day helps prevent muscle loss and promotes a lean body mass. “If you work out first thing in the morning, eating a high-protein breakfast can help you refuel and support muscle growth and recovery,” says Karnatz.

Best High-Protein Foods to Eat for Breakfast

1. Greek Yogurt

“Including a serving of Greek yogurt with breakfast is a surefire way to jump-start your day with a generous dose of satiating protein,” suggests Gaw. A 7-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt adds 20 grams of protein to your morning meal.

Greek yogurt also provides probiotics. “Probiotics support healthy gut microbiota, potentially bolstering immunity and reducing systemic inflammation and chronic disease risk,” adds Gaw.

Check out our Nut & Berry Parfait for inspiration. Or try these High-Protein Strawberry & Peanut Butter Overnight Oats.

2. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has recently gained popularity on social media, thanks to its high protein content. One cup of cottage cheese offers about 25 grams of protein. “Cottage cheese is a great choice because it’s packed with other essential vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium and Vitamin B12,” says Kolesa. 

Cottage cheese is versatile and can be enjoyed savory or sweet. “Add a savory flavor to scrambled eggs, spread on top of whole-grain toast or enjoy as part of a fruit bowl,” Kolesa suggests. We especially like our Cottage Cheese Snack Jar.

3. Eggs

Eggs are a complete source of protein, providing all 9 essential amino acids your body cannot make on its own. In total, there is 6 grams of protein per egg. “Eggs are versatile and a relatively cost-effective way to add more protein at breakfast,” Nwora says. She suggests our Shakshuka with Roasted Tomatoes or an omelet for a low-fat high-protein breakfast. 

4. Tofu

Tofu may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering breakfast foods, yet it’s a versatile ingredient that can easily be incorporated into any recipe.

A half-cup (about 126 grams) of tofu contains 22 grams of protein and under 2 grams of saturated fat. “It’s a lean, high-protein option to start your day as an alternative to traditional eggs and dairy products,” says Whitaker. In addition, you get unsaturated fats to support your heart and plant-based probiotics for gut health, she adds. Studies show that plant compounds in tofu called isoflavones are responsible for its many health benefits.8

She suggests making a scrambled tofu breakfast burrito, this Tofu & Vegetable Scramble or blending silken tofu into smoothies instead of milk or yogurt. 

5. Salmon

Salmon is a great source of protein, with 17 grams per 3-ounce serving. It’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other nutrients that support overall health. Omega-3s can improve heart health by reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and making blood vessels more elastic.

For ideas to incorporate salmon into breakfast, try this nontraditional Breakfast Salad with Smoked Salmon & Poached Eggs or these Everything Bagel Salmon Bites.

6. Ground Turkey

Ground turkey is a lean source of protein commonly used in lunch and dinner recipes, but it’s a great option for breakfast, too! One 4-ounce serving of 93%-lean ground turkey has 20 grams of protein. It also provides essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and selenium. 

Ground turkey is a great replacement for bacon and sausage in omelets, scrambles and breakfast casseroles because it’s lower in saturated fat. Use leftovers from the night before for added convenience. 

7. Ready-to-Drink Protein Shakes

Most dietitians recommend a food-first approach to nutrition, but protein shakes are a convenient option for busy mornings. If you’re meeting most of your protein needs from food, using a protein supplement for an added boost is fine. 

Most ready-to-drink protein shakes have 20 to 30 grams of protein. Nwora suggests using a protein shake as the milk for your cereal or as a creamer in your coffee. “They’re great for your morning commute. They can even be kept in your car, purse or backpack for breakfast in a pinch,” she says.

The Bottom Line

Protein is an important nutrient that should be part of every breakfast. It provides long-lasting energy, keeping you feeling full and satisfied for longer. People who regularly eat protein at breakfast have better blood sugar control and improved heart health. Aim for a balanced meal that includes protein, fat, carbs and fiber, and consider including foods like eggs, salmon, ground turkey and tofu in your morning meal.

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