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The Best Lean Protein

author image Bridget Coila
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.
The Best Lean Protein
An arugula and tomato salad with strips of chicken breast and pine nuts. Photo Credit Elena_Danileiko/iStock/Getty Images

Protein forms the building blocks of a variety of bodily tissues, including muscles, skin, organs and glands. While there is no single best lean protein source, different forms of lean protein provide certain advantages that others may not offer. According to MayoClinic.com, lean protein is defined as having less than 3 g of fat and under 45 calories per serving. Adult women need at least 46 g of protein a day and adult men require 56 g.

Lean Poultry

Skinless, boneless chicken and turkey breast are two excellent sources of lean protein. A single ounce of either of these two meats fits in the MayoClinic.com definition of a lean protein source. These two meats also provide iron, zinc and vitamin B-12. Be sure to remove the skin before cooking, since poultry skin contains saturated fat that can shift it from being a lean protein source into something not quite as healthy.


Fatty fish can be a misnomer, since cooked wild salmon contains only 2.3 g of fat per ounce and is considered a lean protein source. The fat in the name refers to the fact that salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of fat that boosts brain health, relieves joint inflammation and improves heart health. Omega-3 fats are considered essential fatty acids because the body needs them but cannot produce them. Fish is one of the best sources of these fats, which may be difficult to get into the diet otherwise. If buying and preparing fresh fish seems like too much work or the cost seems unaffordable, you can get the same benefits from canned fish, including tuna, salmon and sardines.

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While most vegetable protein sources do not contain all of the amino acids the body needs, soybeans and products made from soybeans do have all of the required amino acids and are therefore considered a complete protein. Tofu is one of the most well-known soy products, but other options include soy milk and edamame, or cooked soybeans.

Alternate Sources

It is always a good idea to include a variety of different protein sources in the diet, not just one or two; varying your diet is key to great health. Beans can be another important source of lean protein, but since they do not contain all of the essential amino acids, they should be consumed with a food containing the missing amino acids, such as rice. Eggs, nuts, seeds and milk products can also supply lean protein along with a bevy of other nutrients and should be included in a healthy, balanced diet.

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