It's Quality Over Quantity When Making Your Protein Count

Find out which foods pack the most punch.

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Photo by Christopher Baker

This article originally appeared on MIMI

We all know protein is important to our health, and certainly to weight loss in terms of keeping our stomachs full longer and contributing to lean muscle, but eating just any protein won't give you the benefits as much as eating the right ones will.

According to an article published in U.S. News & World Report, nine of the 20 amino acids, which are known to be the "building blocks" of protein are considered essential. Animal-based protein sources like meat, eggs and dairy items pack in the most. And while there are plenty of plant-based sources that contain protein, they each only hold a few of the nine essentials. So while you might mow through a plate of brussel sprouts, it's not giving you all of the amino acids your body needs.

Eggs are a great place to start because they contain 6 very valuable grams of protein, according to registered dietitian nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, who is also a U.S. News Eat + Run blogger. And don't count out cottage cheese as part of a boring breakfast, it contains 25 grams of protein per serving plus 18 percent of your daily calcium in just one cup, registered dietitian Jim White, spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and owner of Jim White Fitness training studios in Virginia.

Chicken is an important protein source for meat eaters as it has less saturated fat than, say, red meat, and holds 30 grams of protein per breast. Of course if it feels like you're eating chicken every night (as it often does at my dinner table), studies suggest opting for fish at least twice a week. "Low in calories and high in value, fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids promoting heart health and stabilizing moods," says Taub-Dix.

Whole grains, like quinoa, legumes (think beans, edamame and peas), Greek yogurt, nuts and leafy greens are the other optimal protein sources suggested by nutritionists to get the most bang for your buck.