I was recently getting ready for work when I was listening to the Nutrition Diva Monica Reinagel’s podcast on “Is Lean Protein Really Better For you.” It got me thinking! As a bikini competitor and somebody who goes through the life “cut” phases to lean out, I obviously chose to eat really lean meats. However, some of my meal plans can include beef and other fishes like salmon. Salmon is high in fat, so what’s the deal?
We all know we need protein and often times we are told we should eat lean proteins right? In a healthy nutritional plan most coaches, nutritionists, friends, (including myself) would tell you to eat plenty of fruits, veggies, lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and some whole grains. What are lean sources of protein? Lean Protein is defined by the USDA as having less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol in a 3.5-ounce portion. The food exchange system defines lean protein as a 1-ounce serving that has 2-3 grams of fat. So peanut butter and salmon wouldn’t be considered a lean protein source but ground turkey, boneless, skinless chicken breast would be.
In the fitness industry, I always hear people talking about lean sources of protein and add salmon or peanut butter into a nutritional plan. Nothing wrong with that but it wouldn’t be considered a lean source of protein but this comes to show how mindlessly we use the term “lean protein.”
So are lean proteins really necessary? We DO need to count calories! We DO need to track our foods to make sure we aren’t overeating, but by now we know we can take out some refined carbs and add some healthy fats to our diet and it won’t hurt us. The days of the “low fat” diet are over, that trend has proven to be just that, a trend. So is the term lean protein really is just a throwback to our low-fat days?
Saturated fat isn’t all that bad in moderation. We know saturated fat can help your heart and according to Reinagel’s podcast, about half of the fat in red meat is actually monounsaturated heart-healthy fats. So really, there isn’t anything wrong with enjoying some meats that are a little higher in fat. It is all proportionate to your fitness goals, what you eat throughout the day and what you want to achieve.
Here’s the deal, eat foods, not just protein. Protein can come from all sorts of sources like nuts, nut butter, meats, seafood, and other plant-based proteins like legumes. If you eat eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast, you might want to go for a leaner protein source for dinner. If you eat egg whites and some veggies go for that steak for dinner. The point is, we are evaluating our overall nutritional makeup for the entire day not just one meal or one food source.
I would still suggest staying away from these “not so lean” protein sources like cured meats. Cured meats contain a high amount of nitrates (which can form toxic compounds in the gut). nitrates are what is found in poison. EWWW! Also, try to minimize the fried foods because of the unhealthy fats that the meats are cooked in. Eating lots of veggies can actually neutralize the formation on nitrosamines in the gut so if you do find yourself eating some cured meats don’t skip out on the veggies.
Salmon has three times as much servings of fat as ham but the fat in salmon is heart-healthy omega 3’s but the ham is filled with nitrates. See where I’m going with this…You have to be smart about your protein sources. Eat smarter people! By definition, salmon is not a lean source of protein but it’s still healthy!
If most of your nutritional plan is based on plant-based proteins (as an example) and you are eating a lot of nuts you might not have enough calories in your day to eat more fats like avocados. So it really is a give and takes the situation. If you decide to pick some leaner cuts of meat you can go ahead and add in some other sources of protein like peanut butter.
I’ll eat lean sources of proteins all day and have some flank steak for dinner. I’ll even do salmon or shrimp on weekends after a long week of leaner sources of protein. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A HEALTHY BALANCE!
To check out the Nutrition Diva’s podcasts click HERE