There are some basic principles when choosing protein-rich foods that we hear about consistently. Choosing leaner cuts of meat is the goal, and this has become synonymous with eating more poultry and fish and limiting beef and pork products. This is a good rule of thumb, as beef and pork are often up to 75 calories per ounce compared to most poultry at 35 calories per ounce, but it isn’t always this black and white. Sometimes chicken can actually be higher in fat and calories than beef and pork. It all depends on the cut.
When choosing chicken and turkey, you save calories and fat by removing the skin. It is also important to choose white meat such as the breast. The dark meat, found in the legs and wings, can be equal or more calories and fat than many beef products. For example, 3.5 oz of dark meat chicken with skin is around 253 calories compared to the same size beef tenderloin at 200 calories.
Known as the other white meat can also be a lean protein source depending on the cuts. While pork ribs and sausage may tip the scales on fat and calories, pork chops and pork tenderloin can be surprisingly low in calories and fat. In some cases, such as a pork chop, the cut is equal to the amount of fat and calories as chicken breast.
For the most part, beef is higher in fat and calories than other protein sources, but there are some cuts that are lower than dark meat chicken. Some lean cuts of beef include top or bottom round, eye of round, sirloin, and tenderloin. Look for the labeling of Select or Choice Grades. Select is leaner than Choice and Choice is leaner than Prime cuts. Select cuts will look less marbled than Prime cuts.
Cold water fish such as salmon and tuna tend to be higher in calories and fat. However, these fatty fish contain important omega three fatty acids not found in the other animal proteins. This makes fish top on the list for healthy protein sources.
Fast Guide to Best Picks:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Skinless turkey breast
- Lean ground turkey or chicken (look for 97-99% fat free)
- Canadian Bacon
- Pork Chops (remove any visible fat)
- Pork tenderloin
Select and Choice Cuts of:
- Top or bottom round
- Eye of round
: some fish may contain high mercury levels and should be consumed less frequently. Children and women of child bearing age should avoid consuming these fish: King Mackerel, Swordfish, Shark, and Tile Fish.
Children under the age of 12, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and nursing mothers should limit medium mercury fish to once a week or less (6 oz a week), such as: striped bass, canned albacore tuna, tuna steaks, halibut, lobster, bluefish, and grouper.