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Eight Types of Protein and Their Functions

author image Joelle DiTucci
Based in Berkeley, Calif., Registered Dietitian Joelle DiTucci received her Master's degree in nutrition, and enjoys her work as an eating disorder dietitian, support group leader, writer and a Rise coach. Her main interests are in recipe creation, disordered eating, psychology and intuitive eating.
Eight Types of Protein and Their Functions
A piece of grilled salmon on a plate. Photo Credit: VankaD/iStock/Getty Images

Nearly every activity your body performs involves the help of proteins --- from building muscles to fighting bacteria -- so protein-rich foods are essential to your health. Consuming meats, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, soy, nuts and seeds will provide you with protein and an array of other nutrients.

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Eating the leaner cuts of beef -- usually "round" or "loin" selections -- allows you to benefit from easily absorbable iron without going overboard on saturated fat. Iron and vitamin B-12, both in beef, are essential for your immune system and energy levels. Another nutrient beef offers is zinc, which is key for male reproductive health.


Lean ground turkey and skinless chicken breast are both excellent sources of the antioxidants selenium, which maintains healthy joints and skin, and zinc, which optimizes eye and hair health. Chicken also provides niacin, which helps you metabolize energy and helps children grow and develop properly.


Eggs are one of the highest-quality, most easily digestible proteins. Along with seafood, they are also among the rare sources of plentiful vitamin D, which maintains strong bones and teeth. The egg yolk itself is a particularly rich source of choline, a memory and performance booster, and lutein and zeaxanthin, key nutrients in eye health.


Similar to animal sources, seafood is a high-quality protein offering a mixture of amino acids that your body needs to function properly. Seafood, like salmon, offers omega-3 fatty acids that aid in brain health and prevention of heart disease and stroke. Seafood is also often a great source of phosphorus, magnesium and selenium plus vitamins A and D.

Beans and Peas

Beans and peas are among the top protein sources for vegetarians and vegans, offering a source of iron and zinc. Because they also have dietary fiber and other nutrient qualities of vegetables, these proteins are also counted in the vegetable food group. The dietary fiber in these foods improves blood cholesterol, blood sugar control and bowel function.

Soy Products

Soy foods like edamame and tofu are among the rare sources of complete vegetarian proteins, meaning they provide adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. This vegetarian protein option also offers B vitamins that boost your mood and memory. Further, some research suggests soy foods may even improve bone density among post-menopausal women.


Getting unsaturated fats from nuts like walnuts can reduce your risk for heart disease by improving your blood cholesterol levels, regulating heart rhythm and preventing blood clots. Nuts and seeds are both an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your body from free radicals that may contribute to cancer and cardiovascular disease.


Some varieties of seeds offer significantly more fiber than nuts, especially chia, flax, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Seeds also tend to have a little more magnesium than nuts do. Magnesium, a key nutrient in bone health, offers protection against Type 2 diabetes and may improve PMS symptoms.

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