If you are tired of chicken breasts, we’ve got some very good news for you: there are lots of other healthy protein options. There are a lot of misconceptions about which meats and cheeses are healthy to eat. Ultimately, fat amounts will vary according to type and cut—not the source. In other words, organic, grass-fed, or any of the other options—the fat amount does not vary. What changes is the profile of the fats. So, grass-fed beef’s fat may have slightly more omega-3s, but the amount of fat does not change.
Keep in mind while reading these recommendations that fat is not the enemy. However, when high-fat meats are consumed in excess, you are exposing yourself to not only excess calories, but excess saturated fat. Saturated fat is almost exclusively found in animal products and can be harmful for your heart health, so your intake of it is something to keep your eye on. Therefore, I promote lean meats for these purposes, not for the purpose of promoting a “low-fat” eating mentality as fat definitely has its place in everyone’s diet.
Of these four categories of meats, I advise doing the bulk of your eating in the first two, with moderation in the last two categories.
Extra-Lean or Very Lean Protein: These are meats with 4% or less of fat. Of course, this will include the ubiquitous skinless chicken or turkey breast, as well as white fishes (sea bass or tuna, for instance), and even fat-free cheeses.
Lean Meats: These meats are 7-10% fat and you may see them labeled as 90-93% fat-free. This category includes most steaks (filet mignon, New York strip steak), some cuts of pork as well as dark meat poultry (without skin), and fatty fishes (mackeral, salmon). You may be surprised to see pork on this list, but you’d actually be surprised to know that pork loin has even less fat than chicken breast.
Medium Fat Meats: Here you’re looking at between 10-15% fat. This includes most ground beefs, rib-eye steaks, and some cheeses (mozzarella, for instance). This kind of thing adds up quickly in terms of calories, so be wary.
High-Fat Meats: This will be any meat with anything above 15% fat. This is all the luxury foods: bacon, sausage, whole milk cheeses, and spare-ribs.
Now, armed with these categories, you can tell which meats are indulgent and which are solid nutritional choices. Remember, meat will always be seven grams of protein per ounce—by choosing a lean meat, all you’re losing is the fat, not the protein. Here are my top five meat choices that go beyond the chicken breast:
1.) Ground beef: Ground beef can be extremely fatty—but it doesn’t have to be, if you take control of what beef is ground. Sirloin steaks are a lean meat, with three to four percent fat. Grind them and they make great hamburgers. I go to the butcher and ask for a pound of sirloin and I have them grind it for me. Now I have a very high-quality meat that is low in fat and has no surprises. I use it in bolognese sauce for pasta, meatloaf, meatballs, lasagna, burgers—any delicious beef recipe. For me, I say there is no need to cut out beef completely, as long as the beef is lean.
2.) Pork: It’s not just the other white meat. Many cuts of pork are very lean, and seriously delicious. For example. Pork loin and pork chops are actually quite lean, just remember to grill or broil rather than fry. The tenderloin is another ultra-lean cut of pork, that you can cut into pieces to cook, or cook as a whole and then slice. Pork tenderloins are delicious treated with a spice rub and grilled or broiled—no need for fatty sauces. Finally, pulled pork, when made from a lean cut, is a seriously delicious break from chicken breast for your meal prep. Something like pulled pork is so versatile that you can enjoy it all week long without getting bored.
3.) Fish: I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t some fishes like salmon super oily? While this is true, it’s also true that seafood, when compared to other meats, delivers a LOT more protein per ounce for the fat it contains. Additionally, the fat that is found in fishes like salmon are rich in omega-3s, an essential fat that the body can’t make on its own.. Four to six ounces of salmon a couple of times a week will give you enough omega-3s will protect your cells from damage and keep your heart healthy.
4.) Chicken sausages: Remember when I said sausages were a high fat meat? Well, there is an exception to this rule—chicken sausages. Regular sausages can be seriously high in saturated fat and other compounds that just aren’t good for your body. However, chicken sausages are a much leaner option and you can use them as an enhancing flavor for pasta sauces, scramble bits of them in your eggs or even heat one up with some mustard on the side for a satisfying, protein-packed snack.
5.) Dairy: It may come as a surprise, but I love cheese! When people come to my office and I say you can have cheese, they are always astonished. However, you have to go out and find good cheeses. Light options of cheeses are one of those rare alternatives to the real thing that usually don’t have anything extra added to give more calories, but you can barely taste the difference. Also, don’t forget about low fat yogurt and cottage cheese! Any of these are great protein choices.