Healthy Diet & Nutrition

Get Smart about Protein


Editor’s Note: According to the National Institute on Aging, proteins are often called the body’s building blocks. They are used to build and repair tissues. They help you fight infection. Your body uses extra protein for energy. Good sources of protein are seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Protein is also found in dairy products. Protein from plant sources tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol and provides fiber and other health-promoting nutrients. Here, from the experts at, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are tips on how to consume protein wisely:

Pick lean portions

The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.

The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.

To be considered “lean” ground beef, the product has to be at least 92% lean/8% fat.

Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.

Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.

Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches instead of luncheon/deli meats with more fat, such as regular bologna or salami.

Keep it lean

Trim all visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.

Broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.

Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.

Skip or limit the breading, which adds calories and will cause the food to retain more fat during the cooking process.

Prepare foods without high fat sauces or gravies.

Vary your protein choices

Choose seafood at least twice a week as the main protein food. Look for seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout and herring). Some dishes to consider include salmon steak or filet; salmon loaf; grilled or baked trout.

Choose beans, peas, or soy products as a main dish or part of a meal often. Try chili with kidney or pinto beans; stir-fried tofu; split pea, lentil, minestrone or white bean soups; baked beans; black bean enchiladas; garbanzo or kidney beans on a chef’s salad; rice and beans; veggie burgers; hummus (chickpeas) spread on pita bread

Choose unsalted nuts as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes. Use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to them. You can try pine nuts in pesto sauce for pasta; slivered almonds with steamed vegetable; toasted peanuts or cashes in a vegetable stir fry; and walnuts or pecans in a green salad instead of cheese or meat.

Additionally, the choosemyplate experts suggest sprinkling a few nuts on top of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Look at the label

Check the nutrition facts label for the saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium content of packaged foods.

Processed meats such as hams, sausages, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the ingredient and Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake.

Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium.

Lower fat versions of many processed meats are available. Look on the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less fat and saturated fat.

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