Protein is an essential source of energy and also provides building blocks to maintain and repair the body. The fat in each serving of lean protein is less than 3 g. Choosing lean sources of protein is an important strategy to keep cholesterol at appropriate levels. Low cholesterol is an important part of reducing the risk for heart disease.
Lean protein foods also provide vital minerals and nutrients important for maintaining optimum health. Iron and vitamin B & E are also found in quality sources of lean protein. Iron is crucial for proper development of red blood cells. Low iron causes low hemoglobin (anemia) and can result in profound fatigue. B vitamins are essential for the body's energy production system. Many B vitamins serve as cofactors for a variety of enzymes and hormone production systems. Lean protein foods also contain the potent antioxidant vitamin E. This vitamin is important in protecting the body from the ravages of free radicals.
List of Lean Protein Foods
- Meat. Meat sources of lean protein include: chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, veal and lamb, pork tenderloin or fresh ham and wild game, such as rabbit, buffalo, venison and ostrich. The recommendation is to limit intake of meat to twice a week.
- Eggs. Eggs are low in fat and contain quality protein and amino acids. Egg whites are nearly all protein and hard-boiled eggs are a good breakfast food or snack.
- Low-Fat Dairy Products. Ricotta, feta, mozzarella, and low fat cottage cheese are excellent sources of protein. Choose wisely to avoid consuming excess calories or high fat dairy products.
- Fish/Seafood. Baked or steamed fish and seafood provide lean protein, low fat and the added benefit of brain and heart health omega-3 fatty acids. Shrimp, clams, mussels and any coldwater fish are good choices. Excellent lean protein sources come for the water such as herring, flounder, halibut, salmon, haddock, sardines, tuna and trout. The added benefit of coldwater fish is omega-3 fatty acids.
- Chicken Breast. Remove the skin to cut down on the fat content and retain the benefits of this lean protein source. Bake or grill chicken to capture the flavor but avoid frying or breaded chicken because it adds extra calories and fat to your diet. Chicken provides about 8 g of protein per serving.
- Lean Beef. Choose lean cuts of beef and trim off any excess fat. Always shop for extra lean ground beef to make hamburgers or meat loaf. Lean beef provides quality protein along with vitamins and minerals.
- Beans. Navy, pinto and Lima beans provide as much protein as 3 oz. of steak. They also add fiber to the diet that helps keep you full for longer periods of time.
- Protein Powder. Powdered sources of protein and are available in a variety of flavors. Soy and whey protein are two of the most popular types of protein and can provide 20 g or more of protein per serving. Try mixing these powders with skim or soy milk for added protein without the extra fat. Casein and hemp are also quality types of protein powder that are becoming more popular.
- Pork Chops. Pork chops are an excellent source of lean protein. The fat content is much less in pork chops compared to steak or beef. Trim off any excess fat and bake or grill to capture the health benefits of pork chops. Make sure the color is uniform and the meat is fresh and firm when selecting pork chops.
- Quinoa. This ‘superfood' is high in protein, vitamins and antioxidants. Quinoa is gluten free and also provides calcium and is an excellent addition to the diet, especially for vegans or those who don't like dairy products.
Tips of Keeping Protein Foods Lean
The cooking process is also important for keeping protein foods lean. Follow these tips, you will have a healthier diet.
- Trim off any excess fat on all cuts of meat and poultry. This will save unwanted calories and fat making the cut of meat leaner.
- The grey or brown fat on fish generally tastes bad and should be scraped off prior to eating.
- Cook meat, poultry and fish using lean cooking techniques such as broasting, baking or grilling.
- Avoid deep-fried foods, frying in oil or using breading. Trim off the skin of chicken before cooking.