Protein: "Real" Food Top 20
Balance in your diet is important for various reasons – each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, fat) 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.
In this post I’m focusing on my top 20 “real food” options to increase your protein! In this post I focus on how to easily increase your protein intake with my top 20 real food favorite protein sources! So, get your grocery list and let’s get started!
Note: Don’t get overwhelmed and start adding additional protein sources to your day, especially things like shakes and bars. Start small by adjusting your portions of the lean protein you already eat so it takes up more room on your plate. And always aim for “real food” options when possible!
1. Seafood. My favorites are shrimp, cod, flounder and tuna. 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!
2. Salmon Burgers. My favorites are from SAMs Club and are really delicious! They have 21 grams of protein and only 6 grams of fat. And they’re easy to prepare ahead of time and pack for lunches!
3. Lean red meat. The truth is that your bodily more readily utilizes animal proteins than 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).
4. Chicken. 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!
5. Pork. 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.
6. Turkey. Extra lean turkey breast is a great option! You can find whole frozen turkey breasts or purchase ground extra lean (99% lean) or lean (93% lean) turkey breast.
7. 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).
8. Non-fat Greek Yogurt. Unsweetened can double as sour cream and mayo! Watch the sugar intake on sweetened varieties.
9. Light String Cheese. It’s a great option when you’re in a hurry and need something quick.
10. 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!
11. Beans. Black beans, especially, can pack a hefty protein punch!
12. Lentils. Lentils are a great source of amino acids and fiber.
13. Veggies. Especially peas and green beans. They even have protein blend options in the freezer section.
14. Grains. Yep, surprisingly grains can pack a protein punch! Check your nutrition labels because some can be extremely high carb.
15. Lunchmeat (nitrite free, low sodium). 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.
16. Soy/Tofu. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a great option if you’re not a big fan of animal protein.
17. Pea/Rice Protein Powder. The combination of rice and pea protein actually provides one of the best-tasting protein concentrates available. The end product is 80-90% pure, hypoallergenic, easily digested protein.
18. Nuts. Nuts do have a decent amount of protein but it’s important not to go to town as they’re very high in fat, too.
19. Seeds. Seeds also have a decent amount of protein. Again, it can be very easy to overeat them and they do pack of hefty fat punch, too.
20. 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 it’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!