7 Foods That Are Lower in Protein than You Think

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

While almost every food contains protein, some foods contain much more than others, giving you a punch of the nutrient in a relatively compact serving.

There are other foods, however, that many eaters believe are high in protein — but really aren’t. Here are seven foods that, while still nutritious, aren’t particularly high in protein.

If you’re shooting for about 50 grams of protein a day, which is the recommended intake for a 2,000 calorie diet, these foods won’t necessarily help you get there.

However, we in no way want to foster a reductionistic approach to nutrition — don’t just choose foods for one macronutrient! These foods have a lot to recommend them; they can all be part of a wholesome diet (luckily they’re all so tasty you probably weren’t doing that anyway). But if protein is what you’re looking for, these won’t get you far.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

1. Cream Cheese

Since it’s got cheese in its name, it must have some good protein in there, right? Unfortunately, no. A two-tablespoon serving has just two grams of protein in it, but contains 10 grams of fat, which is exactly why it tastes so rich and decadent slathered on your bagel.

Keep enjoying it but know that it’s not making that bagel a protein-rich breakfast — top it with smoked salmon to help with that.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

2. Almond Milk

There’s just one gram of protein in a cup of almond milk. Even though it’s made from high-protein almonds, the milk, made from soaking the nuts, doesn’t hold onto much of the nutrient.

If you’re looking for a non-dairy milk that does have some protein, soy (eight grams in one cup) and coconut (five grams in one cup) milk are better options.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

3. Hummus

Both the main ingredients in hummus — chickpeas and tahini — are good sources of protein, so naturally hummus should be too. While technically it is, you do need to eat a fair amount to get its benefits. I am always surprised to look at the nutrition label on the back of a tub and see that the serving size of two tablespoons has only two grams of protein in it.

So, using it just as a dip for carrots probably isn’t going to give you as much protein as you’d like, unless you’re scooping up a serious amount in each bite.

Instead, get the protein benefits of hummus by using it in a hummus bowl — you’ll get about nine grams of protein in a 1/2 cup serving.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

4. Avocado

Avocado floats around on many lists as a rich protein source, and I have to disagree. While a whole avocado does give you four grams of protein, you’re generally not eating the entire avocado. If you’re just slicing half to add to salad or smash on toast, the real nutrition benefit is its big dose of healthy fats, not protein.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

5. Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt has a little less protein than regular non-frozen yogurt — 1/2 cup has three grams while 1/2 cup of regular plain yogurt has four. The difference is, however, that frozen yogurt usually comes with lots of added sugar. While it’s a wholesome option to satisfy your sweet tooth, it’s not the best pick when you’re looking to eat a protein-filled lunch.

Related: 20 Ways to Eat a High-Protein Lunch

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

6. Flax Seeds

Flax seeds are a powerhouse of good things, but they aren’t rich in protein. Their name might deceive you since there’s “seed” in it, but there are just three grams in two tablespoons. Instead, look to flax seeds for a rich source of good fat and and fiber.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

7. Bananas

Protein? In a banana? This is a common Google search, believe it or not! Whether or not you think there is protein in a banana, you’ve probably run out the door with nothing but one in hand thinking you’ll be satisfied until lunch because it’s quick, easy, and the first thing you grabbed — I’ve definitely done this.

There’s just about one gram of protein in a medium banana. While there’s some fiber in the fruit, which can add to the feeling of fullness, you’ll probably still be hungry in an hour. Swipe some peanut butter on that banana and suddenly it’s a protein-rich breakfast that will satisfy.

Ready now for foods surprisingly high in protein? 10 Foods That Are Higher in Protein than You Think

Who I Am (and Why I’m Writing to You)

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As a food editor who is also a Registered Dietitian, I know the confusion of our fractured landscape of diet information. But if you strip away the study-of-the-day and fad diets, there is solid information we can all learn about basic nutritional building blocks.

We’re offering these unsexy yet useful tools to empower cooks to make decisions that suit them with solid, science-driven resources.

This especially applies to protein, the first topic in our new Nutrition 101 series. We want to give you the tools for confident eating and a more wholesome diet — something we can all get behind.