A Guide to Lean Protein

This post was written by Heather Sachs. Heather is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition. She has more than 15 years of experience combining her knowledge in food, nutrition, and regulatory affairs as well as translating science into impactful brand communication. Heather is currently Blue Apron’s Director of Regulatory Affairs. 

lean pork protein

No matter what time of year it is, it can’t hurt to check in on your diet. Ask yourself: what are you eating, and how does it make you feel? As a Registered Dietitian, I feel it’s important to focus on the foods or food groups we want to add into our diets, versus those we try to eliminate. If you focus on the additions, there isn’t much room in your mind (or your stomach) for anything else.

Science teaches us the benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. These foods provide our bodies with important micronutrients like vitamins and minerals needed to carry out normal functions in our body. These foods also provided beneficial macronutrients known as protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats called mono- or polyunsaturated fats help support a healthy heart. . Carbohydrates, specifically in the form of fiber, help you feel full and satisfied. But what about protein? There is a lot of confusion about protein. Why do we need it? What type of protein is best? How much do we need? That’s what we will explore here.

Why do we need Protein?

Protein is a very important part of our diets. This nutrient supports muscle growth and repair, enzymatic responses, the functioning of hormones, tissue repair and even daily cell maintenance. Protein can come from either plant or animal source.

What type of protein is best?

Protein can come from many sources including meat, poultry, pork, fish, shellfish, beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds. A balanced diet includes a combination of any of these sources. When we talk specifically about a lean protein, that means a 100g (about 3 ½ ounce) portion has < 10 grams of fat, < 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and < 95 milligrams of cholesterol. You may also come across the term “extra lean”, this means that the same portion of protein would have < 5 grams of fat, < 2 grams of saturated fat, and < 95 milligrams of cholesterol[1].

What are some sources of lean protein?

Chicken, turkey, seafood (shellfish, fish) are arguably the most common lean protein sources, but let’s think outside of the protein-box.  Foods like pork loin, eggs, beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, dairy (low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt) and quinoa are excellent options for lean protein sources. Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc), peanuts, and seeds are another great option when it comes to protein. While these foods are not considered low fat, the fat that they do provide comes in the form of heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Beef can also be a source of lean protein; it just depends on the cut and the portion size. Aim for about 3.5 oz a cut like top sirloin roast or filet mignon, or 90% lean ground beef.   

How much protein do you need in a day?

Protein needs vary from person to person. Factors like age, gender, height, weight, and activity level are all important factors used to determine an individual’s daily protein needs. On average, a sedentary person should consume .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Another way to easily calculate this is multiplying your weight in pounds by .36, meaning a sedentary 150-pound woman would need about 54 grams of total protein per day (150 x .36 = 54 grams).

Chicken breast1 small31 grams
Ground Turkey4 OZ22 grams
Ground Beef4 OZ22 grams
Shrimp3.5 OZ17 grams
Salmon4 OZ23 grams
Tofu3 OZ8 grams
Pork loin4 OZ24 grams
Beef tenderloin4 OZ22 grams
Almonds1 OZ6 grams
Egg16 grams
Greek Yogurt1 container 170g17 grams
Quinoa¼ cup6 grams
Chickpeas½ cup10 grams

[1] https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-does-lean-and-extra-lean-beef-mean-on-a-nutrition-label#:~:text=Lean%20means%20that%20100%20grams,than%2095%20milligrams%20of%20cholesterol.