Protein is a main focus of most weight loss programs, mainly because it is not only effective at helping us build lean muscle (muscle per pound burns more calories than fat), but also because it helps us stay full longer and stave off troublesome carb cravings. But, eating too much meat can make you grow tired of protein really fast; and, if you’re a vegetarian, it makes consuming protein even more challenging. That’s why it’s so important to discover the many kinds of great sources to get protein, and take advantage of all of them.
1. Animal Protein
One of the most obvious sources of protein is animal protein. This includes any kind of animal meat, including red meat, poultry, lamb, pork, and wild game meat like rabbit and venison (deer). While all of these meat choices are great sources of protein, they are not necessarily healthy for you unless eaten in moderation. For instance, rabbit and lamb are great sources of protein, but they are unusually high in cholesterol. Beef is also very high in cholesterol, as well as saturated fat, but it also contains many essential nutrients and readily absorbable iron, so it may be good for you to eat on occasion. Venison, on the other hand, is one of the leanest and healthiest meats. Many cannot consume it, however, due to its gamey flavor – well, that, and the “Bambi” effect (deer are just too cute to eat).
When it comes right down to it, the best choices for animal protein featuring low-fat, low cholesterol, and mild flavor, are those that trend back to the “white” meats: chicken and pork. Preferably, it will be the chicken breast and pork loin, because bacon high in sodium, and the dark meat of any bird contains more fat.
Just about any seafood is a good source of protein. It is the most easily digestible, is rich vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, but also may have a high mercury content, which is toxic and builds up in your system. For this reason, most doctors recommend not eating fish more than 2-3 times per week. Some of the best overall protein sources for seafood are tuna, salmon, anchovies, halibut, tilapia, and snapper, all of which have approximately 6g of protein per ounce.
You can find protein in many vegetables, including those where you wouldn’t expect it, like sun-dried tomatoes (8g per 1 cup). Broccoli is another source of protein (2.6g per cup), as well as asparagus (.4g per spear). Plus, don’t forget the other “usual” sources, like nuts, soybeans, various other beans (other than green beans, which have very little), and quinoa.
Eggs are a great protein source. Though they are technically an animal protein, they kind of land in a class by themselves. They are one of the few proteins that may be separated from their fat and cholesterol, as nearly all of the protein is in the egg white, and nearly all the fat and cholesterol is in the egg yolk. There are still benefits to eating the egg yolk, so if you are eating a low-fat diet, you may not want to eliminate them entirely. The easiest way to get the best of both worlds here is to try cooking scrambled eggs or omelets with only 1 yolk for every 2-3 eggs. Simply separate the yolk from the white and discard the extra.
5. Whey Protein and Dairy
Whey protein (usually in protein drinks), is a protein source derived from milk, which has two protein sources: casein and whey. Whey may be obtained through a separation process, or it may be harvested as a by-product of the cheese-making process. However, it is obtained, whey is considered a complete protein with 9 essential amino acids, and it is very easily digestible unless you are lactose intolerant. Many other dairy products also contain a significant amount of protein, including yogurt, milk, and cheese.
It’s interesting to note that several vegetables or plant-based proteins rival beef in their protein per ounce. For instance 80/20 (20% fat content) ground beef contains 7.3g of protein per ounce, which is less protein than an entire cup of sun-dried tomatoes. This also means that a cup of broccoli (2.6g protein)and 7 asparagus spears (2.8g protein) with 2 slices of melted lower-fat cheese like mozzarella or provolone (14g protein – 7g per 1oz.) will give you about the same amount of protein as a 1/3 pound burger… without the bun. Which sounds better when you’re really hungry: a large serving of cheesy veggies, or a small meat patty? The point is, when it comes to protein, get creative, and eat a little of both – then you will not only be satisfied, but get the benefits of a variety of different foods to keep your body on the right track to better health.
© depositphotos.com/CharlotteAllen, © depositphotos.com/SvetlanaLukienko