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Lean Protein: 11 Healthy Ways to Load Up

Updated: Mar. 07, 2022

Protein helps keep hunger at bay between meals, facilitating weight loss, but the trick is to choose lean protein. Fortunately, that’s relatively easy with this list.

1 / 11

Go for ground sirloin, the leanest ground beef.

A 3-ounce serving has 196 calories and 10 grams of fat. The next leanest is ground round (for 218 calories, 13 grams of fat), then ground chuck and ground beef (both about 231 calories, 15 grams of fat).

2 / 11

Don’t forget the eggs.

Eggs have been much maligned over the years, but the fact is, they are an excellent and inexpensive source of protein and the most nutritionally complete of all protein sources. One large, hard-boiled egg contains 7 grams of protein and has just 2 grams of saturated fat. To avoid the saturated fat altogether, use the egg whites and throw out the yolks. Or you can dress that egg up (and get in a serving of veggies) by making an omelet and folding in iron- and fiber-rich spinach. In studies, people who ate eggs and toast for breakfast stayed full longer and ate significantly fewer calories the rest of the day than people who ate a bagel and cream cheese. Eggs do contain a fair amount of cholesterol, but dozens of studies have shown that it’s saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, that raises people’s cholesterol the most.

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Go to the freezer section for frozen edamame.

These young green soybeans, in or out of their shell, are wonderful as snacks; just steam them and add a little salt. You can also add them to soups and salads. Soy has more protein, by volume, than beef, and virtually none of the saturated fat.

4 / 11

Pick up pork chops or a lean pork loin.

Pork loin is very lean meat and isn’t too expensive. Throw a couple of chops on the grill (dress them up first with a low-calorie garlic–lime juice marinade, or with chili and garlic powders) for a quick dinner—each is just 129 calories, with a healthy 16 grams of protein.

5 / 11

Buy a package of chicken tenderloins.

Keep them in your freezer for quick meals. Each tenderloin weighs about 11⁄2 to 2 ounces, which makes portion control easy for you—two tenderloins are roughly equal to one 3-ounce serving, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Tenderloins will marinate quickly and can be used in kebabs or tossed into stir-fry dishes.

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Buy at most two servings of red meat per person per week.

Red meat contains saturated fat, and one study found that women with type 2 ­diabetes who ate more red meat were more likely to develop heart disease than women with diabetes who ate less. Other research showed that the more red meat women ate over almost nine years, the more likely they were to develop type 2 diabetes.

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Skip the bacon and hot dogs.

While red meat seems to increase the risk of developing diabetes, processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs seem to increase it even more.

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Choose turkey or chicken breast at the deli counter.

Lean slices of meat on whole-wheat bread topped with mustard and baby spinach leaves make a healthy, low-cholesterol lunch—that is, if you select lunch meats that are low in saturated fat. Skip the salamis and bolognas. Good second choices are lean ham and roast beef—just stick to two slices or 11⁄2 ounces of meat in your sandwich.

9 / 11

Get your fill of fish from cans or pouches.

Salmon is nature’s heart medicine, but you don’t have to cook up a fillet to get more of it into your diet. Canned salmon is a smart choice not only for convenience but for health; that’s because most canned salmon in the United States is wild-caught fish versus farmed fish (and therefore may contain fewer contaminants). An added bonus to eating salmon: Researchers recently found that people who had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were 53 percent less likely to report feeling mildly or moderately depressed.

10 / 11

Buy seafood to stash in the freezer.

Vacuum-packed sole, cod, or salmon fillets, which are flash-frozen, are the next best thing to fresh fish. Keep some in the freezer and you’ll always have ingredients for a healthy dinner on hand. You can thaw the fish in the fridge overnight or defrost it under cool running water. Cleaned frozen shrimp is another great buy. Pair it with frozen mixed veggies and you have a stir-fry dinner ready to go.

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Head to the sushi station for a protein-packed prepared meal.

Many larger supermarkets have their very own sushi chefs on-site, boxing up fresh fish and rice combination plates. If ever you need a quick, prepackaged meal, this is the place to stop: Sushi delivers protein and some fiber and is generally low in calories—one piece of a California roll has just 30 calories and less than a gram of fat. Just steer clear of the soy sauce, which is very high in sodium, or ask for the low-sodium kind.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest