Why You Should Eat Lean Protein Foods for Better Health

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Protein is an important part of a healthy diet and can help you to lose weight. But do you know how to choose the best lean protein foods? Smart lean protein sources are high in nutrients but lower in fat and calories.

Use this lean protein list when you shop for your weekly groceries. Then fill your breakfast lunch and dinner plate with these foods. You'll benefit from good nutrition and from the feeling of fullness and satisfaction that protein provides.

Protein provides four calories per gram. The macronutrient supplies your body with amino acids that help build muscle, bone, cartilage, and skin. Protein also helps regulate hormones and maintains a healthy immune function.


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Certain types of fish are great sources of lean protein. Most fish are lower in saturated fat than poultry or beef. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, is an excellent choice as it contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a good fat that can be beneficial to your health. Tuna, mackerel, cod, herring, and anchovies are also packed with protein power and nutrition.

Chicken and Turkey

Chicken parts
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Poultry is a good source of protein, but the calorie count of poultry can vary. So it's important to read nutritional labels and choose leaner cuts of turkey and chicken as often as possible. As a general rule, lighter meat is lower in calories than dark meat. Also, be sure to remove the skin before eating and learn how to grill your chicken or turkey to cut fat and calories. You can also roast poultry or bake it to keep the calorie count low.

Lean Beef

Watching your fat and your daily calorie intake doesn't mean you have to give up steak. If you choose the right kind of beef, it can be a healthy part of your weight loss program. Choose cuts with the words "round" or "loin" in the name, and those that have less visible marbling. Trim any visible fat before you cook it or ask the butcher to do so before wrapping it up. When choosing ground beef, look for "lean" or "extra lean" on the label. If you enjoy red meat, but still need to cut back on fat, consider bison as your red meat alternative. It tastes like beef but provides less fat than most typical beef steaks and roasts.


Eggs can be part of any healthy diet because they are budget-friendly, versatile and easy to prepare. The calories in eggs are low and they provide around five grams of protein per serving. You can use eggs to make a healthy breakfast, or you can make sandwiches or heartier dishes such as a vegetable frittata or vegetarian quiche. If you are concerned about cholesterol, use fewer yolks because the fat and cholesterol are in the yolk.

Low-Fat Dairy

Low-fat dairy products, like low fat or skim milk, are an ideal source of lean protein because much of the saturated fat has been removed from them. They provide vitamin D and calcium. Low-fat cheese, milk and traditional yogurt and Greek yogurt are staples of a healthy diet as they can be worked into almost any meal or as a part of a healthy snack.

Beans, Peas, and Lentils

Beans, peas, and lentils are also good lean protein sources, particularly for those who follow a vegetarian diet. They provide plenty of fiber, which can actually help you stick to your diet. The protein and fiber pack a "one-two punch" that can help you feel fuller much longer than other foods and thereby prevent overeating. Try adding beans to recipes such as chili, soup, or make a healthy salad to keep your diet on track. 

You'll notice that protein snack bars and protein powders are not on this list. Why? Because experts generally recommend that you get protein from whole foods rather than processed supplements. Of course, that doesn't mean that powders and bars are bad for you, but you'll enjoy nutritional benefits if you choose whole foods as good lean protein sources more often.

And don't forget that how you prepare lean protein matters most if you are eating to lose weight. Bake, roast or broil meat and seafood to minimize the amount of oil that you use. Be sure to measure dairy products like cheese or and even yogurt because the calories in those products add up quickly. And try not to add too much oil when you prepare dishes with beans. Traditional recipes can often be prepared with less fat to save calories and still taste great.

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  1. USDA. Salmon, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. USDA. Egg, whole. Updated December 16, 2019.