“Eat more protein” is a popular message, especially for anyone looking to lose weight or get fit. That’s because this macronutrient plays a critical role in satiety and building muscle, according to past research. The exact kind and amount of protein that’s best has been a much-debated topic, however.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight each day for adults, according to the National Research Council. For a 150 pound woman, that would mean about 55 g of protein each day, or the amount in 7 ounces (oz) of chicken, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Given that those recommendations haven’t changed in several decades, some experts have been questioning whether they should be updated. Nutrition researchers make a good case for doing so in a paper published in February 2023 in Nutrients.
For the most part, though, Americans are already eating more than the RDA of protein, according to data from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. We just aren’t always getting it from the best sources. A ribeye steak, an egg, and black beans are all ways to meet your daily protein needs, however, they’re not nutritionally equivalent. A 6-oz ribeye steak, for instance, contains no fiber, but 11 g of saturated fat, per the USDA; which is almost an entire day’s worth, according to the American Heart Association. At the same time, 1 cup of black beans will net you almost 17 g of fiber and only 0.2 g of saturated fat, per the USDA.
While diets like keto claim you can eat bacon every day and still lose weight, nutritional recommendations usually focus on “lean protein,” sources of the nutrient that contain less fat, particularly saturated fat, and fewer calories. The USDA defines a lean protein as a 3.5 oz (about 100 g) serving of food that contains less than 10 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, and 95 milligrams cholesterol. These include 93 percent lean ground beef, pork loin, skinless chicken breasts, seafood, and plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, and soy.
Research has suggested that the primary source of protein in your diet, and whether it comes from plant sources (which tend to be leaner) or animal ones, can not only influence weight loss, but cardiovascular risk factors as well. Animal protein does appear to have some benefits, however: One meta-analysis found that it may be better for building lean muscle. Lean protein is one of the best ways to reap those benefits while limiting calories and unhealthy fats in your diet.
Another benefit of lean protein: It’s delicious! There are so many kinds to enjoy, whether you eat meat or not. Here are 10 recipes to get you inspired and adding more lean protein to your diet.