Protein Diets:  Choice Cuts

Protein is a very important part of the diet, whether you are trying to lose weight or gain muscle mass. To get your own body lean, choose lean protein foods. Select meats and dairy foods that don't have the excess baggage of a high saturated fat content. This simple rule is really important not only for losing body fat, but for protecting yourself from diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. A "juicy steak" is a treat for some, but an everyday occasion for none!

In your eating guidelines, you'll notice that all of the dairy and meats or meat/dairy alternative choices are low in fat. You should build your basic diet with that goal in mind because by doing so:

- you'll be getting rid of most of the saturated fat in your diet
- you'll get rid of a lot of "hidden" calories in the form of these fats
- you'll decrease the caloric density of your diet
- you'll increase your protein intake, gram for gram of every animal/meat alternative you choose

I have counseled many patients who thought they were eating a low cholesterol diet because they switched from red meat to poultry. In fact, there are very lean cuts of "red" meats, and the fat in poultry (if you eat the skin) can be quite high. And, the cholesterol content of one ounce of any animal food is pretty much the same, about 30 mg per ounce. So, even when you choose lean meats, you'll need to limit the total amount to stay within healthy eating guidelines (Each calorie plan is different - check your own guidelines).

Into the Fire

If you're making an effort to eat less red meat, or you're contemplating eating a meat-free diet, what will you substitute as a high quality protein source? A common mistake I see many people make is to substitute cheese for meat. This is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire! Regular cheeses are higher in saturated fat and sodium than an equal amount of high fat red meat so it's not a good trade-off for your health, or as a protein source. 

The chart below can help you choose better sources of protein. Notice that as the fat decreases, the protein increases, ounce for ounce - that's a good trade!