How to select Lean Protein

By: Jacqueline Gomes, RDN

Protein is an essential building block for muscle and tissue repair, but do you know how to select the leanest animal protein sources? Choosing lean protein means you’ll be getting more nutrition with less saturated fat and calories.

Protein not only helps build muscle, but also helps to reduce appetite by increasing feelings of fullness and can boost metabolism. Let’s look as some delicious lean sources!


Chicken and Turkey

The most popular meats consumed in the United States and for good reason. They’re an excellent source of lean protein; the white meat is leaner than the dark, and remember to remove the skin to cut back on fat and calories. For ground turkey or chicken choose above 90% lean.


Lean Beef

Surprisingly, lean beef can easily fit into a healthy eating plan. Choose cuts with the word’s “loin” or “round” and those cuts that have less white marbling. Trim any visible fat before cooking. For ground meats always choose “lean” or “extra lean” On the label. Examples of lean beef include sirloin, top round, flank steak and tenderloin.


Pork is another lean choice with less than 10 grams fat and 4.5g saturated fat, look for pork chops, pork tenderloin or sirloin pork roast just to name a few.



Almost all fish is considered a lean source of protein, a few notable exceptions would be salmon or mackerel which are higher in omega-3 fats but still pack a protein punch. Your leanest fish will include shell fish like shrimp and scallops and fish like cod, flounder and mahi-mahi. Try to include fish in your diet twice a week.


Beef Picadillo-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Beef Picadillo stuffed acorn squash on a plate

Total Prep: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 Servings


  • 1 pound Ground Beef (93% lean or leaner)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican Seasoning Mix (see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 acorn squash, quartered, cooked
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds (optional)



  1. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add Ground Beef and onion; cook 8 to 10 minutes, breaking beef into 3/4-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet with slotted spoon; pour off drippings. Return beef mixture to skillet.
  2. Cook’s Tip: Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed Ground Beef. Ground Beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. Color is not a reliable indicator of Ground Beef doneness.
  3. Sprinkle seasoning mix and cinnamon over beef; mix well. Stir in tomato sauce and raisins; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over squash. Garnish with almonds, if desired.


Cook’s Tip: Mexican Seasoning Mix: Combine 1/3 cup chili powder, 1 tablespoon salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin and 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Store in airtight container. Shake before using to blend.

Nutrition information per serving: 288 Calories; 79.2 Calories from fat; 8.8g Total Fat (3.4 g Saturated Fat; 0.27 g Trans Fat; 0.7 g Polyunsaturated Fat; 3.4 g Monounsaturated Fat;) 84 mg Cholesterol; 834 mg Sodium; 28 g Total Carbohydrate; 4.3 g Dietary Fiber; 28 g Protein; 5 mg Iron; 1098 mg Potassium; 7.9 mg NE Niacin; 0.7 mg Vitamin B6; 2.8 mcg Vitamin B12; 6.9 mg Zinc; 22.5 mcg Selenium; 104.3 mg Choline.


This recipe is an excellent source of Protein, Iron, Potassium, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Zinc, and Selenium; and a good source of Dietary Fiber, and Choline.