Protein helps keep us feeling full, so it's no wonder it's a diet mainstay, especially for anyone trying to lose weight or gain muscle. And while protein is the most satiating macronutrient, per a July 2016 paper in Annual Reviews, not all proteins are created equal.
When choosing protein from animals, there are many factors to consider, including how the protein was sourced, what part of the animal the cut was taken from and what the proper serving size is for smart nutrition.
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When possible, it's smart to consider the foods' impact on the environment, which is why we recommend opting for organic, free-range and grass-fed meats with no added antibiotics or hormones when you can.
Here are the best sources of animal proteins to include in your diet.
When it comes to animal proteins, eggs are one of the leanest options. One large egg contains about 72 calories, 1.6 grams of saturated fat and 6.3 grams of protein, per the USDA. The white, also called the albumen, contains about half of the egg's total protein.
While egg whites are the leanest protein source of the egg, research has debunked the myth that the yolk raises cholesterol levels. Even more reason to eat the whole thing, the yolk is where the majority of the vitamins and minerals are found, along with almost 3 grams of protein.
A 3-ounce serving of steamed scallops provides 17 grams of protein with less than 100 calories and just 0.2 grams of saturated fat. No antibiotics are used in scallop farming and their overall impact on the environment is minor.
3. Chicken Breast
Americans love their chicken. According to the National Chicken Council, we ate 97.2 pounds of chicken per capita in 2021. The leanest cut of chicken is a boneless, skinless breast. Because chicken breast is so lean, it can become dry when cooked, so you'll want to marinate it to add flavor and keep it moist.
Three ounces of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast contains just 133 calories, 0.9 grams of saturated fat and 27.3 grams of protein. In comparison, 3 ounces of cooked chicken thigh has 197 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 19.8 grams of protein.
4. Rainbow Trout
Three ounces of cooked rainbow trout has just 143 calories, 1.4 grams of saturated fat and 20 grams of protein, plus about 840 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, lower inflammation and lower blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Avoid rainbow trout from Colombia, and any fish caught using gillnets and entangling nets.
Shrimp is one of the leanest animal proteins. You can enjoy 3 ounces of cooked shrimp for just 101 calories and 0.4 grams of saturated fat while benefiting from 19 grams of protein. Shrimp is also a good source of phosphorus, zinc and vitamins B12 and E.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch recommends buying shrimp farmed in U.S.
Talk about bang for your buck: Oysters are high in protein and relatively low in calories making them a diet-friendly protein source. Four steamed oysters provide 5.5 grams of protein with just 49 calories and a 1/2 gram of saturated fat.
Look for farmed oysters and Eastern oysters caught in Delaware, Texas and Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Avoid Eastern oysters from New York.
7. Turkey Breast
While chicken is still king, the taste for turkey has increased over the years. According to the National Chicken Council, the per capita consumption of turkey in the United States grew from 10.2 pounds in 1980 to 15.3 pounds in 2021.
Turkey is a slightly leaner alternative to chicken. A 3-ounce serving of roasted turkey breast has 125 calories, 0.5 grams of saturated fat and 25.6 grams of protein.
A 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon contains 118 calories, 0.9 grams of saturated fat and 20 grams of protein, plus 944 milligrams of omega-3s.
Buying salmon can be tricky because there are so many choices. Its location, whether it is farmed or wild and how it was caught are all worth considering when it comes to your health and the health of the planet.
To find the best sources, check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch recommendations for salmon and/or look for an eco-certified stamp from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
The back of the cow, called the round, is where many of beef's leaner cuts are sourced, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is where the eye of round, top round, bottom round (London broil), bottom round, round steak and sirloin tip steak all come from.
A 3-ounce serving of grilled top round steak has 138 calories, 1.3 grams saturated fat and 25.6 grams of protein. Alternatively, a 3-ounce serving of roasted beef eye of round contains 142 calories, 1.4 grams of saturated fat and 25 grams of protein. Opt for organic, grass-fed meats when you can.
Compared to beef, bison is a more sustainable source of animal protein and it has fewer fat and calories. It also has a richer, sweeter flavor.
A 3-ounce serving of cooked grass-fed ground bison has 94 calories, 0.6 grams of saturated fat and 18.7 grams of protein. The same size portion of cooked ground beef has 218 calories, 5.4 grams of saturated fat and 21.5 grams of protein.
Bison are often mistakenly called buffalo, but it's bison that are found in North America. Buffalo is native to parts of Asia and Africa.
11. Pork Tenderloin
The leanest cuts of pork come from the loin and certain parts of the leg, according to the National Pork Board.
When shopping for pork, look for "loin" or "chop" in the name to ensure you're getting these kinds of cuts. Similar to beef, you want to look for certified organic, and "raised without antibiotics" labeling.
Roasted pork tenderloin, one of the leanest cuts of pork, has just 122 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat and 22.2 grams of protein.
- Annual Reviews: "The Macronutrients, Appetite, and Energy Intake"
- MyFoodData: "Egg Whites (Raw)"
- MyFoodData: "Egg Yolks (Raw)"
- National Chicken Council: "Per Capita Consumption of Poultry and Livestock, 1960 to Forecast 2021, in Pounds"
- MyFoodData: "Fully Cooked Chicken Breast"
- MyFoodData: "Chicken Thigh Baked Coated Skin / Coating Eaten"
- Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch: "Trout Recommendations"
- MyFoodData: "Cooked Rainbow Trout"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- MyFoodData: "Cooked Shrimp"
- MyFoodData: "Roasted Turkey Breast"
- Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch: "Salmon Recommendations"
- MyFoodData: "Cooked Sockeye Salmon"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cuts of Beef: A Guide to the Leanest Selections"
- MyFoodData: "Grilled Top Round Steak"
- MyFoodData: "Roasted Beef Eye Of Round Roast"
- MyFoodData: "Cooked Grass Fed Ground Bison (Buffalo)"
- MyFoodData: "Ground Beef Cooked"
- National Pork Board: "Compare Pork Nutrition"
- MyFoodData: "Roasted Pork Tenderloin"
- Bill Cavanaugh; Production Manager; Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats; Brooklyn, New York
- Ward Cole; The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat; Fairfield, Vermont