Top 13 Lean Protein Foods You Should Eat

High protein low fat foods can be good for muscle building and possible weight loss. Choose a variety of plant and animal sources, such as white-fleshed fish, egg whites, and beans, for best results and balanced nutrition.

Protein is an essential component of healthy nutrition. Beyond its essential roles in building and maintaining muscle and tissues in your body and helping regulate many body processes, protein also helps promote satiety (fullness) and may aid in weight management.

Fortunately, there are a variety of lean animal and plant sources of protein that can help you meet your quota.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the protein Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for an adult who eats 2,000 calories a day is about 150 grams (g) or 5.5 ounces (oz), although some people may benefit from eating more.

One chicken breast (about 6 oz) contains about 50 g of protein, which means a person could eat three servings to get to 150 g or reach this amount through a combination of other foods. Your individual calorie and protein needs are typically based on your age, weight, height, sex, and activity level.

Here are 13 lean protein foods to consider.

Most white-fleshed fish are quite lean and excellent protein sources, providing less than 3 g of fat, 20–25 g of protein, and 85–130 calories per 3.5 oz (100 g) plain, cooked serving.

Examples of very lean white fish include cod, haddock, grouper, halibut, tilapia, and bass.

These white fish generally have only about 25% as many omega-3 fatty acids as higher fat, higher calorie, darker-fleshed fish such as coho and sockeye salmon. Therefore, it’s a good idea to eat both types of fish.

Summary

White-fleshed fish such as cod and halibut are excellent sources of hunger-satisfying protein with little fat and relatively few calories, but other types of fish, such as salmon, have higher amounts of healthy omega-3 fats.

A 3.5-ounce (oz) (100 g) serving of Greek yogurt packs around 9 g of protein, compared with only about 4 g in a serving of regular yogurt.

If you’re looking for the least calories and fat, opt for nonfat Greek yogurt, which has less than 2 grams of fat per 156-gram serving, or for low fat plain Greek yogurt, which has about 10 g of protein, depending on the brand.

By opting for plain yogurt, you skip the unnecessary sweeteners and can add your own fruit.

Learn more about Greek yogurt vs regular yogurt.

Summary

Plain nonfat or low fat Greek yogurt contains about twice as much protein per serving as regular yogurt. It also contains much less sugar.

Dry beans, peas, and lentils, also called pulses, are a subgroup of legumes. They average 20-25 g of protein per 1/2 cup (100 g) cooked serving, depending on the type.

A 2021 review explains that eating legumes can have a positive effect on a variety of health markers, including reducing cholesterol, improving the body’s glucose management, protecting blood vessels, and reducing inflammation.

Notably, pulses are low in a few essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein in your body. However, by eating other plant protein sources over the course of a day, such as whole grains and nuts, you can fill in those gaps.

Learn more about the benefits of legumes.

Summary

Beans, peas, and lentils are good sources of lean protein. They’re also high in fiber and may help lower your cholesterol if you eat them regularly.

A 3.5 oz (100 g) serving of cooked chicken or turkey breast has around 30 g of protein.

Skip dark meat cuts such as drumsticks and thighs to get the leanest meat. White meat includes the breasts, breast tenderloins (tenders), and wings.

If you’re looking to limit calories and fat, try to avoid the skin — 3.5 oz (100 g) of roasted chicken breast with skin has 200 calories and 8 g of fat, while the same amount of skinless roasted chicken breast has around 161 calories and 3.5 g of fat.

You can remove the skin either before or after cooking — the fat savings are virtually the same either way.

Learn more about the benefits of eating chicken.

Summary

White meat chicken and turkey, particularly the breasts, are rich in protein and low in fat if you remove the skin either before or after cooking.

One cup (226 g) of low fat (2% milk fat) cottage cheese has 163 calories, 2.5 g of fat, and 28 g of protein.

By eating cottage cheese, you also get around 10–15% of the RDI for calcium in 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, as well as other important nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc.

Learn more about the benefits of cottage cheese.

Summary

Low fat cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein and is becoming even more convenient with the increased availability of single-serving containers. It’s also a good source of calcium.

Tofu is an especially viable protein option if you are trying to avoid animal foods. A 3 oz (85 g) serving of tofu has 71 calories, 3.5 g of fat, and 9 g of protein, including sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids.

If you’re not 100% sold on tofu, edamame, and tempeh are two other whole-food sources of soy that are high in protein and relatively low in calories and fat.

Note that about 94% of soybeans produced in the United States are genetically modified (GM). If you prefer to avoid GM foods, you can buy organic tofu — organic foods cannot be genetically modified.

Learn more about tofu vs tempeh.

Summary

Tofu is a good source of plant protein that provides adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids and is very versatile in recipes.

Lean cuts of beef are those with less than 10 g of total fat and no more than 4.5 g of saturated fat per 3.5 oz (100 g) cooked serving.

When it comes to ground beef, opt for something that’s at least 90% lean. A 4 oz (113 g) cooked hamburger patty made with 95% ground beef has 155 calories, 5.6 g of total fat (including 2.4 g of saturated fat), and 24 g of protein.

What’s more, a serving of lean beef is an excellent source of several B vitamins, zinc, and selenium.

Learn more about how to select lean beef.

Summary

Lean beef is generally signaled by the word “loin” or “round.” If buying ground beef, try to find something that’s at least 90% lean. Lean beef is an excellent source of protein and also packs B vitamins, zinc, and selenium.

The natural oil in peanut butter is heart-healthy but can pack a lot of calories. Just 3.5 oz (100 g) of regular peanut butter has about 500-600 calories, 50 g of fat, along with 24 g of protein.

A lower-calorie option is unsweetened powdered peanut butter. The same serving has just 375 calories and 8 g of fat, but 33 g of protein.

Learn how to use powdered peanut butter.

Summary

Powdered peanut butter is a convenient protein source that has just a fraction of the calories and fat of regular peanut butter.

Whether you drink it, cook with it, or add it to cereal, low fat milk is an easy way to get protein.

A 1-cup serving of low fat milk with 1% milk fat has 8 g of protein, 2 g of fat, and 105 calories. In comparison, a serving of whole milk with 3.25% milk fat has the same amount of protein but 146 calories and about 8 g of fat.

That said, some research suggests that drinking whole milk may not increase heart disease risk, as was once thought, and may even help with weight management.

If you aren’t sure which dairy milk option is best for you, especially if you’re already living with high cholesterol or heart disease, talk it over with a doctor or a registered dietitian.

Summary

Low fat milk is a good source of protein and can save you a significant amount of fat and calories compared with whole milk, especially if you consume it often.

A handful of pork cuts meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of “lean,” which means less than 10 g of fat and no more than 4.5 g of saturated fat per 3.5 oz (100 g) cooked serving.

Lean cuts include pork tenderloin, pork (loin) chops, and pork top loin or sirloin roasts. Pork tenderloin, the leanest cut, has 109 calories, 21 g of protein, and about 2.7 g of fat per 3.5 oz (100 g) cooked serving.

Like lean beef, lean pork is also an excellent source of several B vitamins and selenium and a good source of zinc. Learn more about eating pork.

Summary

You can find lean pork by looking for the word “loin” or “chop.” Even so, be sure to cut off excess fat on the meat if you’re trying to limit fat and calories. Pork is also rich in B vitamins, selenium, and zinc.

If you’re looking for a lot of protein for fewer calories, frozen unbreaded shrimp are a convenient option. A 3 oz (85 g) serving has 110 calories, 22 g of protein, and 2 g of fat.

Though the same serving also has 150 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, scientists have found that consuming cholesterol as part of a nutritious diet generally has little impact on the heart health of people who are not currently living with heart disease or high cholesterol.

However, the high amount of sodium often added to shrimp during processing may be of concern for some people. Learn more about eating shrimp.

Summary

Unbreaded frozen shrimp are a convenient, low fat, high protein food. Read nutrition labels when shopping to avoid products with high sodium content.

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, you can use just the whites.

One egg white contains less than 0.5 g of fat but 3.6 g of protein, which is a little less than half of the protein in a whole egg.

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.

Summary

Half the protein in eggs comes from the whites, but the whites contain only trace amounts of fat and less than a quarter of the calories of whole eggs.

What foods are low calorie but high in protein?

Foods that are high in protein but don’t have a lot of calories or fat include legumes, low-fat dairy, as well as lean meats, fish, or plant proteins like tofu, or quinoa, which has around 8 grams of protein and only 2.5 g of fat in 1 cooked cup.

What is the best protein with the lowest calories?

Fish and beans have the least amount of calories per 100 g while also containing 8-28 g of protein depending on the food.

How do I get 150 g of protein a day?

A balanced, nutritious diet will include enough protein to fulfill the 150 g recommendation. Lean animal proteins include white-fleshed fish, skinless poultry, and cuts of red meat such as loin and round. Low fat dairy products, like cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk are also good sources of protein. Plant proteins like beans, tofu, and powdered peanut butter offer ample protein too.

Protein is essential for a healthy diet, helping to build muscle and tissue, regulate bodily processes, satiate, and manage weight.

Making sure you get enough protein in your diet is important. That said, everyone’s health histories and nutritional needs are different, so it’s important to consult a doctor or registered dietitian before making big changes to your diet.

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