What is protein density?

by Michael Davis in Education | Nutrition

Protein density refers to the amount of protein obtained from a given amount of calories of food. The more protein a food has relative to its calories, the more protein dense it is.

Why is it important?

Knowing this allows you to make better food choices. If your goal is to lose fat and increase your protein intake, we can choose foods that are higher in protein without increasing the calories too much.

This will make it much easier for you to consume in a calorie deficit whilst hitting your protein targets.

How can you measure protein density?

Protein density is calculated by dividing the amount of protein in a food by the amount of calories.

Here in the example for Greek yogurt:

As a general guideline, we will use 100 grams of food, as the majority of food labels contain this information.

Protein in 100 grams of Greek yogurt = 6.1

Calories in 100 grams of Greek yogurt = 132

Protein density = 6.1/132 = 0.046 g/kcal

Now I am not sure many of us have time to walk around the shops with a calculator in hand measuring the protein density of each food. Instead, we can use some general guidelines:

Firstly, you should get familiar with some high protein foods:

  • Lean meats (chicken breast, turkey, lean beef)
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, cod)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (Greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans)
  • Tofu

As a rule of thumb, look for foods with at least 10 grams of protein per 100 calories (0.1 gram/kcal)

Leaner proteins (low fat) are generally more protein dense. They typically range from 0 – 8 grams of fat per 100 calories. Look out for this on the label.

  • Lean meats and poultry: Generally, have 1-3 grams of fat per 100 calories.
  • Fish: Varies more widely, with lean fish like cod having less than 1 gram, while fatty fish like salmon can have around 6 grams per 100 calories.
  • Dairy (low-fat): Often close to 0 grams for non-fat options and around 4 grams for low-fat options.
  • Eggs: Higher in fat, around 7 grams per 100 calories.
  • Legumes: Very low in fat, usually under 1 gram per 100 calories.

Not all fats are bad. It’s important that you make choices depending dietary requirements

Here is a chart that provides an overview of the protein density of some foods

What can we learn from this chart?

1 – The foods furthest to the right are more protein dense. Typically these foods are lower in fat.

Leaner cuts of meat are more protein dense compared to meats higher in fat

2 –  Some proteins have lower fat alternatives which increases their protein density

For example, low fat Greek yogurt and low fat cheese are higher protein dense foods compared to their normal alternatives. Greek yogurt: 0.046 g/kcal VS 0% fat Greek yogurt: 0.150 g/kcal.

Does this mean that avocados, quinoa, oats, almonds and similar foods are bad? No, just because a food isn’t high in protein doesn’t mean that it isn’t nutritious or that you should avoid it.

What are the main takeaways?

Protein density is a useful tool that allows us to make better food choices when it comes to increasing protein and reducing calories.

When reading food labels, look for foods that have more than 10 grams of protein per 100 calories.

Leaner foods, containing less fat, are generally more protein dense.

Some foods have lower fat alternatives, which increase their ratio of protein to calories!

When planning your meals, incorporate as many protein dense foods as you can.

Some foods aren’t protein dense, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad you and that you should avoid them.


Thanks for reading !