10 Lean Proteins for a Leaner You

Article posted in: Nutrition

Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders. While the amino acids that make up this essential nutrient do build muscle, they won’t just make you bulky, blocky and bigger. Protein can also make you leaner. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat does, meaning that when you swap some fat for lean muscle, you’ll see a small increase in metabolism.

Protein can also help you eat less: It takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, meaning you feel fuller, longer. In studies, eating protein at breakfast helped dieters consume less later in the day: In one such study from 2013, overweight participants who ate 35 grams of protein in the morning ate fewer high-sugar, high-fat snacks in the evening compared with those who ate cereal or skipped breakfast.

So how much protein do you need? The number you might hear bandied about at the gym is one gram of protein for every pound of your bodyweight, but scientists recommend a little less: A 2008 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. And a 2015 research review bumped that up a little to 0.45 grams per pound of body weight. So if you’re 200 pounds, you’re looking for 90 grams per day.

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But you don’t have to choke down a bunch of powders to get there: Try these 10 delicious, lean proteins to build lean tissue and a leaner, sexier you:

1. Chicken

Sorry, but wings won’t do: Chicken skin is almost all greasy fat, and increases the calories in this meat significantly. A three-ounce chicken breast with skin has 20 percent more calories than without the skin.

That three ounces is the portion size you’re after. For chicken (and most meats), you can estimate that size without a scale: It’s a piece about the size of a deck of cards. If it’s ground chicken (or beef, turkey or pork), three ounces is an amount that’s a little smaller than the size of the average fist.

That fist or deck of cards will deliver more than 25 grams of protein, and can be enjoyed in a million ways. And it doesn’t have to be plain chicken that makes you feel like you’re on a low carb diet. Try this healthy recipe for stuffed souffle chicken for fast, simple weight loss meal that feels gourmet.

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2. Turkey

It’s not just for Thanksgiving and bland, colorless lunch meat: Turkey not only contains 24 grams of protein in a three-ounce serving, but it’s also packed with phosphorous—a mineral used in building healthy bones and teeth. It’s also got about half of your day’s selenium, a mineral and antioxidant that plays an important role in thyroid function.

Change up your view on the big bird—and add some sweetness and crunch to your lunch—by trying this turkey, pistachio and grape salad.

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3. Cottage Cheese

Get ready to be surprised: Cottage cheese has more protein than chicken! Dairy sources may not seem like an obvious choice for maximizing protein, but they’re a great way to get some variety into your protein-packed, muscle-building, fat-burning regimen.

RELATED: 5 Foods with More Protein Than Chicken

One note: Stick with full-fat. It may not necessarily be “lean,” but often when a dairy product is made into a low-fat dairy product, sugar or other carbohydrates are typically added to make up for the fat that’s taken out. Like protein, fat helps keep you full, so opt for full-fat to maximize your benefits.

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4. Eggs

Along with Greek yogurt, a morning serving of eggs can help front-load your day with protein that can, as the 2013 study mentioned above shows, keep you from overindulging in snacks later in the day. If you’re worried about cholesterol, don’t be: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans confirmed that the cholesterol in your food doesn’t correlate to the cholesterol in your blood. So eating eggs won’t cause an undue increase in your blood lipid levels.

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They will, however, make your morning more filling and delicious—not to mention nutritious. A single egg has just 70 calories, but offers six grams of protein, as well as lipids that make your body more able to absorb carotenoids like lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene from vegetables. Try pairing them with smoked salmon, another lean protein source, for an incredible (sorry, we couldn’t resist) smoked salmon scramble to kickstart your day.

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5. Greek Yogurt

Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt has more than double the protein of plain, regular yogurt. One of the leading brands has 9.8 grams of protein in a half-cup, compared to 4.3 grams for “regular” yogurt. Yes, the Greek has more calories, but to get extra calories almost entirely from filling, hunger-busting protein is a trade-off worth making.

If you’re not already a convert, try swapping Greek yogurt in on taco (or taco salad) night instead of sour cream. Once it’s mixed with the salsa, meat and other ingredients, the slight tang isn’t noticeable, but the added protein might help you fill up faster. Or try mixing it with real fruit and ice for a thick, creamy smoothie that’s a perfect on-the-go breakfast. This mango version is a great start to any morning.

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6. Kefir

Kefir (pronounced like “Kiefer” in Kiefer Sutherland) is not quite milk, but not quite yogurt. It’s runnier than most yogurts, but much thicker than milk. Originally from Eastern Europe, it’s made by fermenting milk with a bunch of different types of yeasts, resulting in a higher probiotic content than most yogurts.

It’s got around the same protein and caloric content as milk, but may be slightly easier on sensitive stomachs. A 2003 study from the American Dietetic Association found that those drinking kefir digested lactose better than those drinking milk, with fewer or no lactose intolerance symptoms. That’s why some folks with funky stomachs have swapped kefir in for milk with morning cereal—a great way to give it a shot, and turn a ho-hum bowl of flakes into an experience of trying something new.

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7. Pork tenderloin

Three ounces of pork tenderloin packs 23.7 grams of protein, with just 5.1 grams of fat, and includes more than 300 milligrams of potassium—almost as much as you’ll get from a medium banana.

But when you roast a tenderloin—at 425 degrees for 20 to 35 minutes, according to the National Pork Board, you get much more than three ounces of juicy, flavorful meat. You get leftovers—meaning having healthy portions of lean protein on hand is easy the next day. Try the leftovers in a simple salad like this pork-and-pepper salad that will make everyone in the office envious of your awesome-looking and -smelling lunch.

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8. Salmon

Three ounces of salmon packs much more than just protein. It’s good for your heart, reduces inflammation, cuts cancer risk, and can even be good for your mood.

It’s all about salmon’s high content of omega-3 fatty acids. In one study, researchers found that eating two weekly servings of fish high in omega-3, like salmon, resulted in a 10 percent reduced risk of heart attack. Those same acids have been associated with lower rates of depression, reduced prostate cancer risk, improved cholesterol, and fewer arthritis symptoms.

Oh, and salmon’s delicious: Try pairing it with cream cheese(!) in these simple, quick and healthy “breakwiches,” perfect for Sunday brunch.

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9. Anchovies

Yes, really! Maybe they’re not your favorite pizza topping, but these little fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein—just 20 grams of anchovies has four grams of protein in just 26 tiny calories.

Most of all, these tiny swimmers bring salty flavor that is perfect mixed into a salad to reduce the amount of fatty dressing needed, or tossed in with pasta and vegetables for added protein and zip. If you’re a nicoise salad fan, try swapping in anchovies for the traditional tuna for a fresh take on your favorite.

Or, if you don’t want to, don’t: Tuna and other tinned fish, like sardines, are also great sources of omega-3s and protein that are easy to pack and carry along. The anchovies are a little less fishy-tasting, but choose your favorite and try it in a lunch like this tricolor salad to get veggies and filling protein at your desk.

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10. Lean Beef

Yes, you can eat beef! Lean cuts, like 93 percent lean ground beef, deliver 25 grams of protein in just a three-ounce serving that runs just over 150 calories. To get that much protein from peanut butter, you’d need to eat nearly 600 calories.

Besides the protein, beef also provides B vitamins, iron and zinc—and about half its fats are the same heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat that’s found in olive oil.

You already know how to eat it, so take your beef consumption to new, gourmet levels at home: Try this steak au poivre, the same kind served at five-star French restaurants… but without the five-star price.