How do you find the best protein foods? How can you tell if a protein food is lean or gives you great nutrition? Learn these terms and use this guide to help you make better choices.
- Very Lean Protein: 0-1 gram fat per oz and 30-35 calories.
- Lean Protein: 1-3 grams fat per oz and 50-55 calories.
- High Quality Protein: foods that have all of building blocks to make muscle tissue and body proteins. These are usually from animal sources and may or may not be lean.
- Incomplete Protein: Plant proteins that may have one or more building blocks missing so they are eaten in combination. Plant foods are usually very lean.
#1 Eggs: the very highest quality protein and most similar to our body’s tissue are eggs. A regular size whole egg contains 70 calories, 5 grams of fat and 280 mg of cholesterol. It can be easily fit into a healthy diet even if you are watching your waistline. You can enjoy eggs and lower calories and fat by using egg whites in all or part of your recipes. Try any one of the many low-fat liquid egg products on the market today. These are extremely lean ways to use eggs in baked goods, filled omelets, coating foods or in meatloaf-type recipes.
#2 Dairy: Another very high quality protein food includes the dairy food group of milk, yogurt, and cheese. You must choose these foods carefully because calories and fat can easily add up. The very leanest choices include non-fat or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese. Low fat cheeses are usually soft types and include feta, ricotta or cottage cheese. You can also find tasty low-fat cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, havarti or mozzarella. Whey protein, popular today in lots of protein shakes, is actually made from milk protein and can be another lean protein choice.
#3 Fish: Super healthy and packed with lean protein! The very leanest choices include white-fleshed fish like flounder or tilapia as well as most shellfish like lobster. Dark meat fish like tuna and salmon are also lean and the fat it does have is very healthy. These fish oils help your body regulate your hormones and metabolism and can help reduce inflammation. The health benefits are huge, just watch out how the fish is prepared. Watch out for store-bought tuna salad, deep-fried fish or super saucy dips and dressings because this can easily blow a calorie budget and cancel out the benefits of choosing fish as a lean protein.
#4 Poultry & Meat: The trick to selecting meats and poultry is to pay attention to the cut of meat that you will eat instead of whether it is red or white meat. While it is true that white meats are generally leaner than red varieties, you can include either in a healthy diet. Lean cuts of meat include the tenderloin, round or center cut. Ground meats will be higher in fat because it is mixed in during processing. Don’t forget about specialty meats like buffalo or ostrich. Both are full flavored and are extremely lean proteins.
#5 Vegetables and Grains: Plants have protein! They are naturally lean and are extremely healthy foods. Look for lentils and different types of beans like black beans, chickpeas or soy nuts and combine them with whole grains like barley or cracked wheat. These combinations make complete proteins and have all of the building blocks to make muscle. Low fat tofu or soy foods like veggie burgers, tempeh or seitan are also lean and healthful and are available in many groceries.