Virtually everybody knows that protein plays a critical role in achieving and maintaining the body we want. You often hear of low carb or low-fat diets, but rarely if ever do you hear of a low protein diet for maximum health or a fit body. That’s because it is very important to get adequate lean protein in our diet if we want to achieve a lean and sexy body. It may seem as cut and dry as skinless chicken breasts, canned water-packed tuna, egg whites and whey protein powder, and these are fine foods, but there are other incredible sources of protein that will not only help dramatically improve your physique, but also your overall health. In addition, not all protein sources that are ideal for health and fitness are all that lean, or ultra low in fat. Let’s sort through the basics and find out what the best sources of this critical macronutrient are.
Top Ten List of High Protein Foods To Eat
10.) Amish-style, organic raw milk cheese: Cheese on a diet? Cheese is thought of by most folks to be the ultimate fat laden food, building an obese body one slice after succulent slice. But wait a minute, if the cows are organically grass-fed and the milk not pasteurized, the fat in cheese is actually very healthy, with some key omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) acting on your lean behalf. The protein is all casein, which is a slow digesting protein that I wouldn’t recommend immediately post-workout, but rather for a late evening snack or on a salad, which is a really good option. You can find several varieties of cheese at your local natural whole food market.
9.) Organic, free-range chicken breast: Most commercial chicken these days are laden with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and food-borne pathogens. They aren’t worth your time, money or health! However, natural, free-range white chicken meat is super lean and a healthy protein source. For a little more money, it is available at most local supermarkets. You still need to cook it thoroughly, to 155°F minimum and pull off that fatty skin too. Other than that, grill, bake, broil, or sauté and enjoy!
8.) Milk-fed veal, preferably from an organic, grass-fed mother: Just because it is an excellent source of protein doesn’t mean you have to eat it. I personally don’t eat veal, as I don’t like the idea of slaughtering young calves for food. From a nutritional standpoint, however, it is worth mentioning because it is a truly lean and healthy protein choice. Anyway, to each their own.
7.) Farm fresh eggs from free-range, organically vegetarian-fed chickens: True eggs like these, yolks included, are excellent whole foods and a rich source of nutrition and bioavailable protein. Eggs of this nature can be eaten raw and also can be stored at room temperature, with virtually no risk of food-borne illness. Check with local ranches or farms and inquire about purchasing farm fresh eggs, which are safe to eat every day. If you buy commercial eggs, they’re okay, but you need to refrigerate them and cook them before consuming. I also would eat mainly the whites if I’m looking to get super lean, as the yolks are not that great in commercial eggs.
6.) High quality whey protein powder: There are many varieties of whey protein powder available and most are probably a big waste of money. The poorest quality ones are also typically the cheapest as well, consisting of whey that is simply a byproduct of the cheese making process. It is waste that is sold by dairies cheaply to supplement companies. It is then cross-filtered or deionized, then powdered and sold to you at a price gouging markup. Ouch! If that isn’t enough, they fill them up with artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Sucralose, and Asulfame K along with artificial flavors. Some companies even blend them off into so-called patented formulas using cheaper proteins as fillers like soy protein isolates and dehydrated milk. They might even sell it as a meal replacement product and add corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, and a pinch of vitamins. High quality whey should be made from cows not treated with hormones, hopefully they are organically grass-fed, and made from non pasteurized milk. It is best if it is not all ion-exchanged or cross-flow microfiltered, but also contains a little whey concentrate with a bit of the natural carbohydrate and fat still intact.
Whey is truly an amazing protein in its natural form. It contains immune boosting probiotics like Lactoferrin, Immunoglobulins, and IGEs (insulin-like growth factors). However, when milk is pasteurized and then most of the carbohydrate and fat stripped away during ion-exchange, what is left is a highly pure and predigested whey powder. That may sound great, but it tends to digest too quickly and easily, where your body can’t even utilize it fast enough. Do I still recommend whey in this form? Yes, but only to be used under certain circumstances. Use standard “pure” ion-exchange or cross-filtered whey, but only in a pre-workout protein drink or a post-workout carb/protein drink. That is the time that the sudden blast of amino acids is likely to be better utilized and not wasted. I recommend Jay Robb’s Whey Protein as it tastes great and uses only Stevia and natural flavors and the cows aren’t hormone treated. If you know a whey manufacturer that does fit the correct criteria; that the whey is made from organic, grass-fed cow’s milk, never pasteurized and with some of the concentrate still in the product; go ahead and use it anytime.
5.) Free-range & organic turkey: Turkey is a great protein source. It is leaner than chicken and more nutritious as well. The dark meat on turkey is even more nutritious than the white and when ground, can be easily substituted for beef, pork, or chicken in most recipes. Turkey contains two amino acids in relatively high quantities that are worth talking about. The first is arginine. Arginine creates nitric oxide in the bloodstream, which acts as a natural vasodilator (widens blood vessels). Widening of the blood vessels can help shuttle nutrients to muscles and organs, give your skin a rosy and healthy glow, allow you to think more clearly and aid both men and women in the bedroom (amazing what a little blood flow will accomplish). Turkey also contains tryptophan, which causes sleepiness. Just think about how you feel following Thanksgiving dinner. I recommend turkey mostly as a dinner food. I wouldn’t send my kids to school with a turkey sandwich every day. Just try to find organic free-range turkey whenever possible.
4.) Ocean, lake or river caught lean fish: I’m talking true fish, with gills and scales, not shellfish like shrimp, scallops, lobster, crab, clams, oysters, mussels, or crawfish. Shellfish are merely scavengers that feed off the trash and pollution at the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes. Because of this, they help to clean up the oceans, but themselves are filthy and if you eat them regularly, increase your chance of food-borne illness exponentially. They are also highly allergenic foods, so beware. The real fish to consume are orange roughy, perch, flounder, trout, bass, sea bass, halibut, snapper, grouper, sole, haddock, tuna (ahi, yellowtail or even canned) or cod. These fish contain little fat but are very high protein. The fat they do contain is full of omega-3 fatty acids. The key is making sure they are wild fish, not farmed, to get all the benefits. They cook up quick too, either baked, poached, grilled or sautéed. Avoid breading your fish and try eating it with a little lemon and herbs or real herb butter. You’ll find that they make a tasty and healthy treat.
3.) Wild salmon and other fatty fish: They key word here is wild, and this typically comes from Alaska. There are several varieties like Sockeye, Copper River and King and all are amazing choices. The difference between wild Alaskan salmon and farm-raised salmon (Atlantic salmon) is night and day. Wild salmon are free and active, eating their natural diet of algae and krill and the pink to red color is 100% natural. The wild salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids and the powerful antioxidant and carotenoid, astaxanthin. Other good choices are sardines and anchovies. There is one drawback and that is that the oceans are becoming quite polluted and salmon is not as safe as it was several years ago. PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and heavy metals are wreaking havoc on our oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, toxins and chemicals tend to store themselves in fat and these are fatty fish. To be safe, eat these fish and/or salmon maybe 2-3 days a week maximum. For additional omega-3 fatty acids, grind flaxseeds into yogurt or try grass-fed meats and cheeses. You can also take a high quality purified fish or krill oil supplement.
2.) Grass fed & organic red meats: Wow, beef right up there near the top? Heresy! Wait a minute, before you have a beef with beef. This is no ordinary beef, but an extraordinary nutritional food. The key is that the animals are organically grass-fed only (not organic “grain fed” or typical commercial beef). Not just beef either, but bison and lamb are also excellent choices as long as the same principles apply. The grass is the animal’s natural food source, and without pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, the meat becomes nothing short of a superior protein choice to almost anything. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids and CLA, two fats that help make you lean and even at that, these meats are leaner than their commercial counterparts. Being leaner than typical beef of the same cut, the flavor may be a bit more gamey, but can still be used in all of your favorite recipes just as normal beef. I prefer to eat meats that are cooked to medium rare, as this retains more of the nutrients, yet without being too bloody, but regardless of your preferred degree of doneness, these valuable meats will take your protein consumption to a whole new level.
1.) Wild game meats: Deer and elk, mainly, are two incredibly healthy meat sources that most people would not even consider. That is mainly because the consumption of these has been mainly left to sportsmen that actually hunt. A little like veal, in that not everybody wants a bite of Bambi, but these are very healthy no less. Surprisingly, with the explosion of giant outdoor superstores and specialty grocers, these meats are becoming more available for the average consumer. Why are they so healthy? They feed mostly on natural, unfertilized grasses and foliage, are active and healthy animals that spend most of their time trotting or running through forest and meadowlands. These animals never take growth hormones, eat from feed troughs or get antibiotic injections. Their meat is very lean, yet what little fat they do have contains high levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid).
Now, I would suggest 50% or more of your total protein intake should come from the above preferred list of foods. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat other proteins like pasteurized dairy products, commercial meats, fermented soy products like miso or tempeh, or even occasional pork or shellfish dishes. It just means you should eat those foods more sparingly.