The #1 Protein for Weight Loss, Recommended by a Dietitian

The #1 Protein for Weight Loss, Recommended by a Dietitian

When it comes to weight loss, high-protein diets are nothing new. The Atkins diet, which is one of the most popular high-protein and low-carb diets, has been around since the 1970s. While cutting out almost all carbs for weight loss likely isn’t sustainable long-term, there is some merit to eating more protein when trying to lose weight.

Take a stroll down the aisles of any U.S. grocery store, and you’ll see dozens of products that are enhanced with extra protein, which usually also comes with a higher price tag. Luckily, there is no need to depend on protein-packed packaged goods or expensive protein powders to up your protein intake for weight loss. The high-protein foods we already know and love, like chicken, fish, eggs and dairy, can be more than sufficient. Focus on adding various high-protein foods to your diet to make it more enjoyable and sustainable when trying to lose weight.

Although animal-based protein sources are a go-to source of protein for many people, plant-based protein foods like beans, peas and legumes are also great options. Read on to find out how protein helps with weight loss and the No. 1 protein a dietitian recommends you eat to achieve your goals.

Fred Hardy

Pictured Recipe: Pumpkin & Black Bean Soup

Why Should You Eat Protein for Weight Loss?

Protein plays an essential role in weight loss by improving your satiety after a meal and increasing energy expenditure. By better maintaining your energy levels, protein prevents you from feeling like you must snack all day to keep yourself going.

Helps Curb Hunger

As noted in 2020 research published in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome, protein alters your gut-hormone signaling, reducing your appetite-stimulating hormones and increasing the ones that make you feel full. Over time, this change in hormone levels can help reduce overall food intake and contribute to weight loss.

Preserves Muscle Mass

When losing weight, it is common to lose not only fat but muscle mass as well. However, according to a 2019 study published in Nutrients, higher protein intake can help minimize muscle loss and preserve muscle mass. More muscle mass means higher energy expenditure, even at rest, which can assist with sustained weight loss.

So how much protein is enough to preserve muscle mass when losing weight? A 2020 analysis from Advances in Nutrition included over 900 participants and found that a higher-protein diet—1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (rather than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 0.8 grams per kilogram)—was needed to maintain muscle mass when dieting.

The Best Protein for Weight Loss

People often reach for chicken or protein powder when they want to increase their protein intake in order to lose weight. Another protein-rich food to consider adding to your plate a few times a week is beans. Beans are not only a budget-friendly and versatile cooking ingredient but also a great source of fiber and micronutrients like potassium, folate and magnesium. Additionally, beans are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. Due to how many health benefits beans offer, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat 1 to 3 cups of legumes weekly.

Packed with Hunger-Fighting Duo

Unlike animal-based proteins, beans offer a winning combination of protein and fiber to help with satiety and promote weight management. In fact, people who regularly eat beans are more likely to manage their weight. A 2023 study in Nutrients that included over 15,000 people found that over 10 years, those who regularly consumed beans were less likely to gain weight than those who never ate beans. Why? The hunger-fighting combo of protein and fiber in beans keeps you full for longer, so you’re less likely to be reaching for a snack just a couple of hours later.

Speaking of fiber, just about everyone could benefit from additional fiber, particularly those looking to lose weight. According to the American Society for Nutrition, only around 7% of U.S. adults eat enough fiber. Adding 1 cup of beans, like pinto beans, for example, to your plate can help you score 15 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein, per the Department of Agriculture. For those looking to lose weight, dietary fiber helps promote weight loss and makes it easier to stick with a diet, per a 2019 study in The Journal of Nutrition.

Protects Your Heart Health

Unlike animal-based proteins, such as meat, dairy and eggs, beans do not contain cholesterol and have little, if any, saturated fats. In a small 2021 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, participants with elevated cholesterol levels significantly improved their total and LDL cholesterol levels by eating just 1 cup of canned beans daily. Beans are also rich in potassium, an essential nutrient for blood pressure management.

Goes Easy on Your Wallet

Adding more protein to your diet can get expensive, since some fresh animal-based protein foods are the pricier items at the store. Despite the rising cost of food, beans are still a great option if you’re on a budget, and they can be used in many ways to create budget-friendly meals. According to the USDA, the average American family loses $1,500 per year to uneaten food; the long shelf life of canned and dried beans can help reduce food waste and save you money.

How to Eat More Beans for Weight Loss

Beans shouldn’t be just a boring salad topper. There are so many creative and delicious ways to utilize beans that are also full of flavor. Here are some of our favorite bean recipes:

The Bottom Line

No matter the form of protein you choose, including more protein in your diet can help support your weight-loss goals. Beans are a budget-friendly source of protein that is also high in fiber and other essential nutrients like potassium. Try out a few of the delicious bean recipes listed above, and you’ll be on your way to getting in the 1½ cups of beans or other legumes per week recommended by the USDA.