Top 13 Lean Protein Foods You Should Eat (P2)
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Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet, but sometimes it’s accompanied by more fat and calories than you want.
Fortunately, there are a variety of lean animal and plant sources of protein that will help you meet your quota.
The protein Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for an adult who eats 2,000 calories a day is 50 grams, although some people can benefit from eating much more than that. Your individual calorie and protein needs are based on your age, weight, height, sex and activity level.
Beyond protein’s essential roles in building and maintaining muscle and tissues in your body and helping regulate many body processes, it also promotes satiety (fullness) and may help in managing your weight.
Here are 13 lean protein foods you should consider:
7. Lean Beef
Lean cuts of beef are those with less than 10 grams of total fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) cooked serving.
If you’re buying fresh beef that doesn’t have a nutrition label, certain words tell you the meat is lean. These include “loin” and “round.” For example, sirloin and tenderloin steaks, as well as eye of round roast and round steak are all lean.
Flank steak and the brisket flat-half (the leaner half of the whole brisket) are lean as well.
When it comes to ground beef, opt for 95% lean. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) cooked hamburger patty made with this lean ground beef has 171 calories, 6.5 grams of total fat (including 3 grams of saturated fat) and 26 grams of protein.
What’s more, a serving of lean beef is an excellent source of several B vitamins, zinc and selenium.
Lean beef is generally signaled by the words “loin” or “round.” It’s an excellent source of protein and also packs B vitamins, zinc and selenium.
8. Powdered Peanut Butter
The natural oil in peanut butter is heart-healthy but packs a lot of calories. Just 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of regular peanut butter have about 190 calories and 16 grams of fat, along with 8 grams of protein.
A slimmed-down option is unsweetened, powdered peanut butter. Most of its fat is pressed out during processing. A 2-tablespoon serving has just 50 calories and 1.5 grams of fat but 5 grams of protein.
To use the powder like peanut butter, mix it with a little water at a time until it reaches a similar consistency to regular peanut butter. Keep in mind that it won’t be quite as creamy.
Reconstituted powdered peanut butter works especially well for dipping apples, bananas or even dark chocolate, for a treat. Alternatively, add the dry powder to smoothies, shakes, oatmeal or batter for pancakes and muffins.
Powdered peanut butter is a convenient protein source that has just a fraction of the calories and fat of regular peanut butter.
9. Low-Fat Milk
Whether you drink it, cook with it or add it to cereal, low-fat milk is an easy way to get protein.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of low-fat milk with 1% milkfat has 8 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat and 100 calories. In comparison, a serving of whole milk with 3.25% milkfat has the same amount of protein but 150 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Clearly, opting for low-fat milk will save you calories and fat. However, some recent studies suggest that drinking whole milk may not increase heart disease risk, as was once thought.
Still, not all whole-milk research is rosy. For example, observational studies have linked frequent intake of whole milk — but not skim or low-fat milk — to a higher risk of prostate cancer.
While scientists continue research in this area, most experts still advise drinking low-fat or skim milk, rather than whole.
Low-fat milk is a good source of protein and can save you a significant amount of fat and calories compared to whole milk, especially if you consume it often.
10. Pork Loin
There are a handful of pork cuts that meet the USDA’s definition of lean, which means less than 10 grams of fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) cooked serving.
The keywords that indicate lean pork are “loin” and “chop.” Therefore, lean cuts include pork tenderloin, pork (loin) chops and pork top loin or sirloin roasts.
Pork tenderloin, the leanest cut, has 143 calories, 26 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fat per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) cooked serving.
Before cooking pork, trim off any fat around the edges and use low-fat cooking methods, such as grilling or broiling, to save on fat and calories.
Similar to lean beef, lean pork is also an excellent source of several B vitamins and selenium and a good source of zinc.
You can find lean pork by looking for the words “loin” or “chop.” Even so, be sure to cut off excess fat on the meat to avoid unnecessary fat and calories. In addition, pork is rich in B vitamins, selenium and zinc.
11. Frozen Shrimp
If you’re looking for a lot of protein for few calories, frozen, unbreaded shrimp are a convenient option. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving has 99 calories, 21 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat.
Though the same serving also has 195 mg of cholesterol, scientists have found that consuming cholesterol as part of a healthy diet generally has little impact on heart health.
However, the high amount of sodium often added to shrimp during processing may be of concern for some people. According to USDA data, the sodium in some brands of plain, cooked shrimp sometimes tops 900 mg per serving.
The majority of this sodium comes from additives, including sodium tripolyphosphate, which helps retain moisture, and the preservative sodium bisulfite.
Some frozen shrimp contain only naturally-occurring sodium of around 120–220 mg per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving.
Unbreaded, frozen shrimp are a convenient, low-fat and high-protein food. Read nutrition labels when shopping to avoid brands with high sodium counts.
12. Egg Whites
You can eat whole eggs (cholesterol and all) as part of a heart-healthy diet, but if you’re looking for something a little lighter, just use the whites.
The white from one large egg has 16 calories, which is less than a fourth of the calories in a whole egg. Additionally, one egg white contains less than 0.5 gram of fat but 3 grams of protein, which is about half of the protein in a whole egg.
Try an egg white omelet or egg white muffins made with baby spinach and chives or diced peppers and onions. Alternatively, scramble egg whites with veggies to make a filling or topping for wraps, tostadas or toast.
You can also buy powdered egg whites and egg white protein powders with minimal or no additives. These products are pasteurized, so you don’t have to cook them to ensure food safety.
Mix powdered egg whites with water and use them like fresh egg whites. You can also add powdered egg whites to smoothies, shakes or homemade protein bars.
Half of the protein in eggs comes from the whites, yet they contain only trace amounts of fat and less than a fourth of the calories of whole eggs.
Whether you call it bison or buffalo, it’s a healthy, lean protein source that may have an edge over conventionally raised beef.
First, bison is leaner than beef. When scientists compared sirloin steak and chuck roast from grain-fed cattle (beef) versus bison, the same cuts of beef had more than twice the fat as bison meat.
Additionally, bison is more likely to be grass-fed rather than raised in a feedlot like cattle, which are primarily fed grains.
That gives bison a healthier fat profile, including 3–4 times more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Preliminary research suggests that consuming bison may yield health benefits.
When healthy men ate 12 ounces of beef or bison (sirloin steak and chuck roast) six times weekly for seven weeks, C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, increased by 72% on the beef-rich diet. However, CRP increased only slightly on the bison-rich diet.
That’s not to say you should eat that much red meat of any kind, but it does suggest bison is a beneficial meat to include as part of a healthy diet.
Bison is leaner than beef and has a healthier, less inflammatory fat profile.
Lean animal and plant protein sources are plentiful. That’s why you don’t have to exceed your daily fat or calorie limits to meet your protein needs.
White-fleshed fish and skinless white-meat poultry are among the leanest animal proteins. However, you can also find lean red meat if you look for the words “loin” and “round.”
Many dairy products are low in fat and good sources of protein, such as low-fat cottage cheese, yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) and milk.
Plant proteins such as beans, lite tofu and powdered peanut butter also offer ample amounts of protein.
Take a look in your kitchen — most likely you already have a few lean proteins on hand!