Multiple pass ER protein
Pass the Protein
Eating healthy means learning to navigate the meat and fish counter at your favorite grocery. Here's how to optimize the fat and protein in your diet.
By Abigale Miller
Medically Reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
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You know you need protein, and you certainly love a perfectly cooked roast or a pan-seared fish fillet.
But how do you make the best choices when shopping for the lean meat and fish needed to make those protein-rich meals?
Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think.
Eating Healthy: How to Choose Lean Meat
Meat is a delicious source of protein and can be an important part of a healthy diet. However, many types of meat are naturally high in fat, especially saturated fat.
Too much of this dietary fat raises blood cholesterol, which can lead to a stroke or coronary heart disease.
To stay healthy, try to limit your daily fat intake to no more than 35 percent of your total daily calories, and saturated fat in particular to no more than 7 percent.
To help you do this, when purchasing meat, look for the leanest cuts:
- Beef: round eye, top round, or top sirloin
- Pork: tenderloin, ham, or center loin
- Chicken: skinless cutlets or breasts; to save money, you can remove the skin and bones yourself
Eating Healthy: Buying Fish
Fish is an excellent source of protein, and a healthy substitute for red meat. Although fish does have fat, it is a different type from the saturated fat found in meat. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two or three times each week, preferably fatty fish varieties, including lake trout, sardines, mackerel, salmon, and herring, to get the most benefit.
Eating Healthy: Organic and Free-Range Products
In addition to the nutritional content of the meat or fish you choose, you may also be concerned about where these animals lived and what they were fed. Many people buy organic, free-range, or farm-raised meat to help the environment or be more healthy. Organic meat doesn’t contain synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, and must pass strict criteria to gain its certification. “Free-range,” as you might expect, indicates the animals were not confined in cages, and “farm-raised” can mean the animals were raised on a small, local farm, or simply that they were not wild.
Specialty foods are often more expensive, and you may be wondering if they are worth the price. Nicole Berkowitz, RD, a nutrition consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, says, “I would recommend fresh organic and free-range if possible.” She points out that this will encourage the local farming industry and help you make more humane meat purchases. If cost is a barrier for you, Berkowitz recommends choosing organic or free-range meat two or three days a week instead of every day.
Although fish is usually a very healthy protein choice, some types of fish can accumulate toxins like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or mercury. Some fishing practices are also destructive to the ocean ecosystem or to the fish population and aren’t sustainable in the long term. Some types of fish and seafood are generally safe, including pollock, catfish, North American tilapia, and rainbow trout. Some environmental organizations, like provide detailed information to help you decide which types of fish to buy, depending on your concerns.
Eating Healthy: Low-Fat Cooking
Keep in mind that you want to prepare lean meat and fish in ways that won’t add unwanted fat or empty calories. Try the following techniques for reducing fat in your protein-rich meal:
- Trim all visible fat before cooking.
- Avoid adding extra fat for cooking, like oil or butter (though oil is preferable to the saturated fat in butter).
- Grill or roast your meat instead of frying.
- Choose low-fat sauces and gravies.
Video: 15.4 Protein Translocation
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