Protein is an essential tool for reducing weight while staying healthy and not feeling hungry or deprived. Getting enough protein every day is a key part of the Five for Life approach to the ‘what’ of eating habits.

Everyone needs at least 1 g per kilo of body weight, per day (and more than this as we get older). To shed excess body fat, aim for 1.2–1.5 g protein per kilo of body weight.

Two things to think about:

  • Are you getting enough? If you’re eat more energy (calories) than you need, you’re probably having sufficient protein although not necessarily – it’s worth a check. If you’ve been trying to reduce your weight by cutting down on meals or eating different foods from normal, you might be skimping on protein without realising it. Meal skipping? Cabbage soup? Juicing? Detox? Multi-day fasting? Practices like these prevent you from getting enough daily protein. Keep daily protein high to safely reduce body fat.
  • Are you getting the right stuff? The best protein is unprocessed. Meat, chicken and fish in their basic form. Eggs and pulses (eg cooked dried beans like chickpeas). Nuts and seeds. Plain tofu and tempeh. Unsweetened yoghurt and cheese.

Can you easily identify good sources of high-quality protein? Read the next section to find out.

What are the best protein sources?

It’s easy to build a high protein, low carb meal using a high-quality protein source together with tons of non-starchy vegetables. It’s dense in nutrients, filling and delicious.

Aim to have at least 20 g of protein in each main meal.

But wait – what does 20 g protein actually look like? No food source is pure protein, not even a piece of steak!

Very roughly, there’s 20 – 30 g protein in about 100 g meat or fish (which is about 70 – 80 g once cooked).

Plant based? If you only eat plant-based protein, you’ll need to eat more of it to get the same amount of protein as from an animal source. Remember, too, that plant protein (apart from soy) is higher in carbs than animal protein. Put your emphasis on high fibre protein (pulses), concentrated vegetarian protein such as plain tofu, and smaller protein intake from grains.

Have a look at the charts on the download to get an idea of the relative protein values of different types of food.

20 g protein – what does it look like?

High protein foods

  • 3 eggs

Meat, fish and poultry a cooked piece about the size of your palm

  • chicken (breast, or lean thigh)
  • fish (white, lean)
  • kangaroo (steak, loin fillet or patty)
  • lamb (lean cut)

Soy and processed plant proteins about 1 cup, tightly packed

  • tofu
  • Quorn™ (meatless pieces. Other forms are lower in protein as they include carbs and many other ingredients)

Pulses about one whole can, drained (1½ cups)

  • lentils
  • black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans
Medium protein foods
Cheese, yoghurt and milk

  • cottage cheese (plain) – about 1 cup
  • cheddar cheese – a large slab (3 x 4 x 9cm) (note – high fat)
  • yoghurt (plain) – 2 small tubs (400 g)
  • cow or goat milk – 600 ml (2 ½ cups)

Nuts and seeds (high in fat)

  • almonds (raw, unsalted) – about 3/4 cup
  • sunflower seeds – about 1/2 cup
  • pumpkin seeds – about 1/3 cup


Low protein food - Not a significant source of protein
Other foods have protein too, but in much lower amounts.

Starchy vegetables and grains, including bread, pasta and rice, are essentially carb-foods, not protein foods.

You need much more than one or two serves to get 20 g protein!

Non-starchy vegetables

  • leafy greens (cooked) – about 1 kg (5 cups)

Starchy vegetables

  • potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot, parsnip (cooked) – about 1 kg


  • quinoa, spelt or oats (cooked) – 2–2½ cups

Bread, pasta and rice

  • sourdough bread – 6 pieces
  • pasta (white, cooked) – 2 ½ cups (400g)
  • rice (white, cooked) – 5 cups
Medium protein food - Only need two serves

Of course it’s much more interesting, and healthier, to combine your protein sources. Some examples to try:

2 Eggs, plus:

  • kale (1 cup) and sourdough (1 piece), or
  • cheese (20 g / small piece 1 x 4 x 5 cm), or
  • almonds (25 g/ 25 nuts), or
  • bacon (1 rasher), or
  • Asian greens (1 cup cooked)

Cottage cheese (1 cup /100 g), plus:

  • pulses such as chickpeas or black beans (½ cup cooked or canned)

Tuna (1 small can), plus:

  • salad (1 cup) and almonds (25 g/25 nuts), or
  • pulses such as chickpeas or black beans (½ cup cooked or canned)

Plant only combos:

  • pulses such as chickpeas or black beans (1 cup) with large dollop of hummus and wild rice salad
  • tofu (3/4 cup), with cooked quinoa (½ cup/80 g) and chia seeds (2 Tablespoons)
  • vegetarian curry of tofu (1/2 cup), pulses (1/2 cup), 2 serves of vegetables, with a small serve of higher-protein grains – eg wild rice, barley, quinoa or spelt