Humans: we’re creatures of habit — and the older we get, the more set in our ways we become, especially when it comes to food. But it’s time to shake things up, dieters, starting with your go-to proteins.
You already know that eating protein is key when it comes to weight loss. Doing so boosts satiety and helps build flubber-frying lean muscle mass, after all. But it seems that many of us have gotten into a rut, relying on just a few primary sources of the stuff. Not only can this cause taste bud fatigue, it can also deny your body of health-boosting nutrients found in protein-rich foods you're overlooking.p
To help you break free of your oh-so-boring grilled chicken and egg routine, we’ve compiled a list of the best-ever proteins for weight loss across every food category. Whether you’re a fan of fish, can’t deny your love of dairy or stick to a meat-free meal plan, we’ve got the best options for your waistline.
Read on to get in the know and be sure to pick a few of our suggestions up next time you head to the grocery store.
Protein Payout: 1 cup (cooked), 41 calories, 5 grams of protein
Popeye's favorite veggie is a great source of not only protein, but also vitamins A and C, antioxidants and heart-healthy folate. One cup of the green superfood has nearly as much protein as a hard-boiled egg—for half the calories. Looking to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck? Be sure to steam your spinach instead of eating it raw. This cooking method helps retain vitamins and makes it easier for the body to absorb the green’s calcium content. Add a handful to soups, omelets, pasta dishes and veggie stir-fries, or simply steam it and top with pepper, garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. And don't feel like you have to double down on the greens. Spinach is one of the 10 greens healthier for you than kale.
Protein Payout: 1 cup, 139 calories, 6 g protein
Tomatoes are packed with the antioxidant lycopene, which studies show can decrease your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Just one cup of the sun-dried version will lend you 6 grams of satiating protein, 7 grams of fiber and ¾ of your RDA of potassium, which is essential for heart health and tissue repair. They’re also rich in vitamins A and K. Use them as a pizza topping, a tangy addition to salads, or snack on them right out of the bag.
Protein Payout: 1 cup, 112 calories, 4.2 g protein
The highest-protein fruit, guava packs more than 4 grams per cup, along with 9 grams of fiber and only 112 calories. With 600% of your DV of Vitamin C per cup — the equivalent of more than seven medium oranges! — the tropical fruit should merengue its way into your shopping cart ASAP. And while you’re at the store, be sure to pick up some of these other surprising high-protein foods.
Protein Payout: 1 medium vegetable, 60 calories, 4.2 g protein
Ghrelin is your body's "I'm hungry" hormone, which is suppressed when your stomach is full, so eating satiating high-fiber and high-protein foods is a no-brainer. The humble artichoke is a winner on both counts: It has almost twice as much fiber as kale (10.3 g per medium artichoke, or 40% of the daily fiber the average woman needs) and one of the highest protein counts among vegetables. Boil and eat the whole shebang as a self-contained salad (why not add a little goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes?), toss the leaves with your favorite greens and dressing, or peel and pop the hearts onto healthy pizzas and flatbreads.
Protein Payout: 1 cup, 118 calories, 8 g protein
It's enough to make Popeye do a spit take: Despite their wimpy reputation, a cup of green peas contains eight times the protein of a cup of spinach. And with almost 100% of your daily value of vitamin C in a single cup, they’ll help keep your immune system up to snuff. Layer them into a mason jar salad or add them to an omelet to boost eggs' satiating power. Speaking of omelets, check out these other fat-burning ways to eat eggs.
Protein Payout: 4 oz strip steak, 133 calories, 26 g protein
When it comes to steak or burgers, go grass-fed. It may ding your wallet, but it’ll dent your abs. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat: A lean seven-ounce conventional strip steak has 386 calories and 16 grams of fat. But a seven-ounce grass-fed strip steak has only 234 calories and five grams of fat. Grass-fed meat also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Protein Payout: 4 oz, 166 calories, 23 g of protein
While grass-fed beef is an excellent choice, bison’s profile has been rising in recent years, and for good reason: It has half the fat of and fewer calories than red meat. According to the USDA, while a 90%-lean hamburger may average 10 grams of fat, a comparatively sized buffalo burger rings in at two grams of fat with 24 grams of protein, making it one of the leanest meats around. But wait, taking a chance on this unexpected meat will earn you two healthy bonuses: In just one serving you’ll get a full day’s allowance of vitamin B-12, which has been shown to boost energy and help shut down the genes responsible for insulin resistance and the formation of fat cells; additionally, since bison are naturally grass-fed, you can confidently down your burger knowing it’s free of the hormones and pollutants than can manifest themselves in your belly fat.
Protein Payout: 4 oz patty, 194 calories, 29 g protein
Lower that eyebrow you’re raising. Ostrich meat is the rising star of the grill. While it’s technically red and has the rich taste of beef, it has less fat than turkey or chicken. A four-ounce patty contains nearly 30 grams of the muscle building nutrient and just six grams of fat. Plus, one serving has 200% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin B-12. This exotic meat can also help whittle your middle: Ostrich contains 55 milligrams of choline, one of these essential nutrient for fat loss. And it’s not as hard to find as it sounds—ostrich is increasingly available in supermarkets around the country.
Protein Payout: 4 oz, 124 calories, 24 g protein
A longtime enemy of doctors and dieters, pork has been coming around as a healthier alternative of late — as long as you choose the right cut. Your best bet is pork tenderloin: A University of Wisconsin Study found that a three-ounce serving of pork tenderloin has slightly less fat than a skinless chicken breast. It has 24 grams of protein per serving and 83 milligrams of waist-whittling choline (in the latter case, about the same as a medium egg). In a study published in the journal Nutrients, scientists asked 144 overweight people to eat a diet rich in fresh lean pork. After three months, the group saw a significant reduction in waist size, BMI and belly fat, with no reduction in muscle mass! They speculate that the amino acid profile of pork protein may contribute to greater fat burning.