The typical American diet is unbalanced when it comes to the makeup of our caloric intake. Ideally you'd like to have about 30% of your calories from protein, 30% from fat, and the remaining 40% from carbohydrates. However, it's far more typical for carbohydrates and fat to make up nearly 90% of the average American's diet. The calories in your diet come from three primary groups of macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat. Protein and Carbohydrates each have 4 calories per gram, while Fat weighs in at 9 calories per gram. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram and isn’t recognized and readily utilized by your body as a nutrient – hence the term “empty calorie”.
Balance in your diet is important for various reasons – each macronutrient has a difference role when it comes to how it is utilized by your body. If you’re out of balance (which is the majority of Americans), your body will compensate in ways that slow metabolism, waste muscle tissue, store fat, and even ramp down bodily functions. But, the role of each macronutrient is a topic I’ll save for another blog post.
Today I’d like to focus on how to easily increase your protein intake with my top 11 favorite protein sources! I know…11…it’s weird, but I have 11 favorites so that’s what you’re getting! Once you get past the first “meat” listing, the others are more product specific. So, get your grocery list and let’s get started!
Lean red meat/chicken/fish/seafood. The truth is that your bodily more readily utilizes animal proteins that other sources. When I say lean meats, I mean cuts of beef such as: Eye of Round; Sirloin Tip Side Steak; Top Sirloin; Bottom Round; Skirt Steak. When talking about ground beef opt for at least 90/10 lean or 93/7 (which is what I recommend). When looking at pork, choose any cuts from the loin – like tenderloin, boneless top loin pork chops, porterhouse pork chop (bone-in center pork chop), or even Ribeye Pork Chop (bone-in rib pork chop). If you can find 96% lean ground pork, it’s an excellent option. The leanest cuts of chicken are boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you opt for the fattier cut of skinless chicken thigh, just be mindful of the increased fat. Just like the red meats, the cut matters! For fish and seafood, it’s easier to list the higher fat fish and seafood options that you should eat more mindfully: Butterfish, Caviar, Chub, Dogfish, Eel, Herring, Lake Trout, Pompano, Salmon (Atlantic), Sablefish, Spanish Mackerel, Rainbow Trout, and Whitefish. These fish and seafood options are high in Omega 3s, which are very beneficial to overall health. So fat from fish/seafood is actually a great option!
Non-fat Greek Yogurt. My favorite brand is Dannon Light & Fit Greek Yogurt. Weighing in at only 80 calories and 12 grams of protein, it’s a great option to have on hand. Strawberry Cheesecake is my favorite flavor!
Eggs/Egg Whites/Eggbeaters. Whole eggs are a good source of protein but you have to be aware of the fat! Don’t want to spend a good portion of your fat by eating 6 eggs for breakfast! I eat a combo of egg whites mixed with eggbeaters daily for breakfast. They’re basically liquid protein and are super quick to cook. Add some veggies for a scramble and you’re good to go! If you’re short on time, just spray a mug and cook them in the microwave for a couple minutes (until firm).
Light String Cheese. I buy Fit & Active from Aldi and it packs a hefty 7 grams of protein! It’s a great option when you’re in a hurry and need something quick.
Non-fat Cottage Cheese. Seriously. It has a lot of protein and is fairly low carb. Get some. You can even use it to make protein pancakes! You can add it to eggs, wraps, salads, rice – be creative and eat more cottage cheese!
Wraps. Yep, surprisingly they can have 10 grams or more of protein per wrap (and a lot of fiber, too!). Check your nutrition labels because some can be extremely high carb. My favorites are: La Banderita Low Carb Soft Taco (5 grams of protein) and Santa Fe Tortilla Company Wholegrain & Flax Tortilla Wraps (8 grams of protein).
Lunch meat. Yep, lunch meat. It tends to be a big high on the sodium front but it’s a quick and easy option. If you’re averse to cold meats, just throw it in the microwave or a skillet for a couple minutes to completely change the eating experience. My favorite is Oscar Mayer Delifresh Cracked Black Pepper Turkey Breast.
Protein Pancake Mix. My favorite brands are P28 Buckwheat flavor and Birchbenders. Watch your portion size because they’re pretty high carb but they’re also super delicious! Add some berries or sugar free syrup/jam and you’re good to go! You can bulk prep these and you can eat them on the go (think roll it up with some turkey bacon and egg whites). Delicious!
Protein Chips. Yes, they make protein chips! I get “Our Little Rebellion Sweet & Smokey BBQ” from Sam’s Club. Quest also makes a chip that is pretty tasty! Great option if you’re craving something crunchy and fast.
Shakes/Bars/Powders. Protein supplements should be used sparingly. Try to get your protein from lean meats/eggs/dairy prior to introducing supplements. Your body doesn’t as readily utilize “manufactured” protein sources so they should not make up the majority of your protein intake throughout the day. Premier Protein shakes are my favorite tasting. I love the vanilla MuscleTech Protein from Sams Club. SFH and Magnum protein powders are pricier but delicious, too. These are all whey protein (there are other types of protein available, as well). My favorite bars are Aldi Fit & Active Cookie Dough, Quest Bars, and Mission by Muscletech.
Jerky/Sticks. Turkey Jerky is my favorite! I enjoy Jack Links brand. I have also recently discovered Ostrim meat sticks. They’re very tasty, have very little fat and typically 14 grams of protein per stick. Jerky/Sticks are super easy to throw in a bag and eat on the go. If you’ll be traveling, be sure to grab some for the trip!
And there you have it. Some pretty easy and convenient options to increase your protein by a substantial amount each day. If you're an adult and you're not eating at least 100 grams of protein per day, you're eating out of balance. As a general recommendation, you should aim for 0.8 - 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. I guarantee you that's a lot more protein than you're currently eating! Take the protein challenge: log your food for a few days using an app like My Fitness Pal to see where you land. I bet you'll be shocked at how little protein you actually eat! I'd love to hear from you if you take the challenge!