13 Best Food Sources of Lean Protein


Turkey can replace beef or chicken in chilli, tacos, and meatballs. Turkey isn't great. Turkey is lean, contains B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus, and has less iron than red meat, says Banbury, UK nutritionist Mark Windle, RD. The USDA's 4 oz DV includes 0.18 mcg vitamin B2, 24.7 mg selenium, and 2.6 mg zinc.


Chicken is a good protein source if you enjoy it. To stay lean, Nieves recommends skinless breasts for low-fat protein. One small skinless chicken breast has 160 calories, 36 g of protein, 1 g of saturated fat, and 2.5 g of total fat, per the USDA.


Round steak or top sirloin and ground beef that is at least 90% lean can be part of a balanced diet, despite red meat's poor image, says Nieves. “Red meat is a great source of vitamin B12 and iron, which the body needs to produce new red blood cells,” she says. Beef contains vitamin B12, according to the NIH.

Lean Ground Beef

Nieves adds beans and legumes are lean, cholesterol-free proteins strong in fibre, folate, and phytates, a plant-based antioxidant that may reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. The USDA reports that a ½ cup of chickpeas has 134.5 calories, 7.3 g of protein, 0.2 g of saturated fat, 2.1 g of total fat, and 6.3 g of fibre.

Beans and Legumes

According to the USDA, a cup of low-fat (1%) milk includes 106 calories, 8.3 g of protein, 1.4 g of saturated fat, and 2.1 g of total fat. If you can handle dairy, low-fat milk provides lean protein. It provides calcium for healthy bones and teeth, although low-fat varieties are also nutritious.

Low-Fat Milk 

Plain low-fat Greek yoghurt provides lean protein too. The USDA reports 146 calories, 19.9 g of protein, 2.5 g of saturated fat, and 3.8 g of total fat per 7-oz container. For the same fat content (2.3 g saturated and 3.5 g total), plain low-fat yoghurt has 11.9 g protein.

Plain Low-Fat Greek Yogurt

According to the USDA, a 3-oz portion of salmon provides 121 calories, 16.8 g of protein, 0.8 g of saturated fat, and 5.4 g of total fat. Kleiner says, “Low-fat, high-protein foods like salmon give you the strength to power through a workout.”


Lean protein seafood goes beyond salmon. Nieves said tuna's omega-3s alleviate inflammation and protect the heart. The Cleveland Clinic reports 1 g omega-3s every 3-oz tuna. Kleiner claims tuna is protein-rich. According to the USDA, 100 g of canned light tuna in water with the solids drained includes 90 calories, 19 g of protein, 0.2 g of saturated fat, and 0.9 g of total fat


Vegans and vegetarians use tofu. Nieves claims it has adequate plant-based protein for all critical amino acids. “It's great for those who avoid animal products and is naturally cholesterol-free,” she says. According to the USDA, a ½-cup of tofu has 181 calories, 21.8 g of protein, 1.6 g of saturated fat, and 11 g of total fat.


Cottage cheese goes on crackers and lasagna. Did you know it's calcium-rich? Cottage cheese includes 92.5 calories, 12.1 g of protein, 1.4 g of saturated fat, 2.5 g of total fat, and 113.5 mg of calcium per half-cup, according to the USDA.

Cottage Cheese

Maybe you don't want chicken, turkey, or beef tonight. Pork is another lean protein, but choose the correct cut. The USDA reports 188 calories, 24.1 g of protein, 3.1 g of saturated fat, and 9.4 g of total fat in a 4-oz pork loin.

Pork Loin

Eggs are inherently high in cholesterol, therefore they may increase heart disease risk. Some studies have linked eggs to heart disease, but the Mayo Clinic says the data are inconclusive. Not all studies have shown a relationship, therefore additional study is needed.


Liver is another lean protein option for dinner. Vitamins and minerals abound. The USDA reports 134 calories, 19.1 g of protein, 1.8 g of saturated fat, and 5.4 g of total fat in 4 oz of raw chicken liver. It contains 10 mg iron (55% DV), 3,720 mcg vitamin A (413%), and 3 mg zinc (27%). Vitamin A boosts vision, claims NIH.


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