Not long ago when people talked about eating enough protein, their first thought was eat more red meat. As if red meat put hair on your chest or something.
No one thought twice about eating meat or the fat on the meat for that matter. The thought was that the fat added flavor to the meat.
Fast forward 100 years ago to now and things have changed. We’ve gotten smart about cholesterol and heart disease.
Those of us who have evolved are looking for alternative, healthier ways to meet our protein needs.
Proteins are the macronutrients we need to maintain lean muscle and meet metabolic needs. The current recommended daily intake (rdi) of protein is46grams for women ages 19 to 70 and 56 grams for men ages 19 to 70. Surprisingly many of us don’t get enough protein and our metabolisms suffer. Many people aren’t aware that some essential proteins are needed to fight infection and maintain proper brain functioning.
Today we also know that the more calories we eat, the more we need to exercise to balance out our caloric intake.
Thus the question arises, what food sources contain the leanest (less fattening) sources of protein that are also the lowest in calories.
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Here is a list of the Top 7 High Protein Foods with the best protein to calorie ratio.
Animal sources of protein are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Your body needs theseamino acids to build and maintain lean muscle. Our bodies cannot make these amino acids on their own, so it is essential that we get them from our diets.
1. Fish–(Salmon, Halibut, Cod, Mackerel, Tuna)
Fish is by far the leanest type of protein you can get and it’s also low in calories. Per 100 grams of these fish you get 19 to 22 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1 g protein per 4.1 calories. This ratio is better than meat, dairy, or plant protein sources.
Serving Size: 3oz equals 17 g of protein
More Fish Protein per 3 oz or 85 grams
Tuna (22g), Salmon (22g), Halibut (22g), Snapper (22g), Perch(21g), Flounder and Sole (21g), Cod (20g), Tilapia (17g)
Meats – (Lean Turkey, Chicken Breast, Lean Beef, Veal, and Porkchops)
2. Lean Turkey and 3. Chicken Breast
These are the leanest traditional meats. They are also lower in calories than beef, veal, or pork. Per 100 grams of Turkey or Chicken breast equals about 29 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1 g protein per 4.6 calories.
Serving Size: 3 oz equals 25 g of protein
4. Lean Beef and 5. Veal (Low Fat)
These pack the most protein per gram, but they aren’t the lowest in calories. Per 100 grams of Lean Beef or Veal equals about 36 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1g protein per 5.3 calories.
Serving Size: 3 oz equals 31 g of protein
More Meat Protein per serving
Chicken Leg – Drumsticks (60g) provides 16g protein. Chicken Thigh (37g) provides 9g protein. 1 Piece of Beef Jerky (20g) provides 7g of protein. T-Bone Steak 3oz (28g) provides 19g of protein.
Porkchops and other pork products are naturally not the leanest meats, but if you love to eat them it’s doable if you budget them into your total daily caloric allowance. Per 100 grams of pork contains 30 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1g protein per 5.4 calories.
Serving Size: 5 oz equals 41 g of protein
More Pork Protein per serving
Ham 3oz (28g) provides 18g of protein, 1 slice of bacon (8g) provides 3g of protein, Canadian Bacon (28g) provides 7g of protein.
7. Eggs – (Egg Whites)
Eggs are many peoples’ go to food for breakfast, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you are trying to get a serving of protein and plenty of energy for the day. You can even have the whole egg if you eat fewer eggs. However that little yellow yoke is going to cost you quite a bit of your daily caloric budget. Per 100 grams of whole eggs you get13 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1 g protein per 12 calories. The Protein to Calorie Ratio of Egg Whites is 1g protein to only 4.7 calories.
Serving Size: 2 large whole eggs equal 12 g of protein
More Egg Protein per serving
1 cup of scrambled eggs (220g) provides 22g protein
Dairy – (Low Fat or Non- Fat Cheese, Milk, Yogurt)
Cheeses can vary greatly when it comes to fat and calories. The best types of cheese that have an optimal protein to calorie ratio are Low-Fat or Non-Fat cheeses such as Mozzarella and Cottage cheese. Per 100 grams of Low-Fat cheese you get 32 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio for Low-Fat cheese is 1 g protein per 4.4 calories. Full Fat Cheeses are a less optimal source of proteins per calorie. The Protein to Calories ratio of Full Fat cheese is 1 g protein per 20 calories.
Serving Size: 1 oz equals 9 g of protein (Non-Fat Mozzarella)
More Cheese Protein per 1 oz or 28 grams
Low-fat Cottage Cheese (5g), Low-fat Swiss Cheese (8g), Low-fat Cheddar (6g), Parmesan (10g), Romano (9g)
9. Milk, 10. Soymilk, and 11. Yogurt
These do provide some protein, but meeting your daily requirements with these options is not the best idea. A tip here though would be to add protein powder into your milk or yogurt. You’d definitely be able to have a serving of milk or yogurt and make it count if you do that. The Protein to Calorie Ratio here is 1 g protein per 9.8 calories.
Serving Size: 1 cup equals 14 g of protein
More Milk Protein per cup
1 cup skim milk (245g) provides 8g protein, 1 cup soymilk (243g) provides 8g protein.
For vegetarians there’s good and bad new regarding plant sources of protein. Firstly, the bad news is some plant sources are considered incomplete proteins. Also the Protein to Calorie ratio is not as good as fish or lean meat. The good news is there are some plant sources that are complete and the ones that are not complete just need to be paired with other foods. This means you can meet your protein requirements with plant sources while at the same time keeping your cholesterol low.
Tofu is actually a complete protein made from soy, and it’s protein to calorie ratio is a bit better than some other plant sources. It’s also a good substitute for meat. You can add flavoring or sauces to tofu to give it a meaty taste. Per 100 grams of Tofu you get 7 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1 g protein per 7.4 calories.
Serving Size: 3 oz equals 6 g of protein
More Tofu Protein per serving
1 cup (252g) of firm tofu provides 20g protein. 1 cup of soft tofu (248g) provides 16g protein. 1 cup of tempeh (166g) provides 31g protein
13. Beans- (Soy Beans)
Soybeans and a handful of other beans have a good protein to calorie ratio while other beans aren’t so great. Also some beans are incomplete in essential amino acids and require pairing to complete the amino acid profile. Mature soybeans however are considered complete. Per 100 grams of mature soybeans you get 18 grams of protein. The Protein to Calorie Ratio is 1 g protein per 9.5 Calories.
Serving Size: 1 Cup equals 31 g of protein
More Bean Protein per cup
Pinto Beans (15g), Kidney Beans (17g), White Beans (17g), Lima Beans (15g), Fava Beans (14g), Black Beans (15g).
14. Nuts and Seeds -(Hemp, Almonds, Pumpkin)
Nuts and Seeds are the little guys when it comes to protein. So although they do contain protein you have to eat a lot to reach your requirements. This means the calories can add up. However the up side is that there are some seeds and nuts with a better Protein to Calorie Ratio than others. These include peanuts, almonds, and pistachios and sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seeds. The Protein to Calorie ratio here is about 1 g protein per 19 calories. Some seeds such as Hemp and Chia are considered complete sources of protein. Hemp seeds have 1g protein per 7.5 calories but Chia Seeds are about 1 g protein per 30 calories. So as you can see, it all depends on which seeds and nuts you pick.
Serving Size: 1 oz equals 5 to 9 grams of protein depending on the nut or seed
More Nuts and Seeds per 1 oz or 28 grams
Peanuts (7g), Almonds (6g), Pistachios (6g), Sunflower Seeds (6g), Flaxseed (5g), Mixed Nuts (4g).
Other complete Plant Proteins include:
Quinoa, Buckweat, and Spirulina
Examples of Complete Protein pairings:
Rice and Beans, Spinach and Almonds, Hummus and Whole Grain Pita Bread, Whole Grain Noodles and Peanut Sauce, Yogurt and Walnuts, Nuts and Legumes, Seeds and legumes, and Corn and Beans.
As a final note, to cut down on fat and cholesterol chose lean meats, which usually contain the word “loin” or tenderloin. When buying meat that has visible fat on it, trim as much of it off as you can. If you are a vegetarian it’s wise to pair incomplete plant-based sources of protein so that you get all 9 essential amino acids. Lastly, if calories are your concern pick protein sources from this list that give you the most protein for the least amount of calories.
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