Best Sources of Animal Protein

August 11, 2019

"Animal protein is full of complete amino acids, which are great facilitators for burning fat, stimulating muscle growth, strengthening your immune system, and much more."

It’s a great time to enjoy meals outside, and focusing on healthy, protein-rich meals is definitely the way to go this summer! Today’s show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, goes further into series on the importance of protein, as she ranks the top animal-proteins. Learn which animal protein is number 1 and which to stay away from. Plus pick up a few of Dr. Nancy’s favorite animal protein recipes.

Video Highlights

  • 01:35: Introduction
  • 09:28: How Much Protein You Need
  • 12:34: Why We Need Protein
  • 17:14: Best Animal Proteins, Ranked
  • 17:39: Fresh Fish
  • 24:01: Turkey
  • 27:22: Chicken
  • 29:17: Red Meat
  • 35:28: Eggs
  • 41:12: Why Animal Protein Gets a Bad Rap
  • 45:00: Wrap-Up

Although plant-based diets are gaining popularity, the fact remains that many Americans eat meat — a lot of meat. The numbers don’t lie. Americans are on pace to eat more meat in 2019 than ever before. According to data published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), The average person will eat 222 pounds of red meat and poultry this year, up from 217 pounds per person last year.  

So if we do the math, that is more than ½ pound of meat per person, per day! That’s a lot of meat — and unfortunately, not all if it is from quality, healthy sources! So let’s talk about the good sources.

Today we’re going to rank the best sources of animal protein in order, starting with the one that is best for you, then the ones you should probably only consume once in a while, if at all. We’ll also talk about one of the most controversial sources of animal proteins of all time. So stay tuned!

This is the first of Dr. Nancy’s two-part protein series, so if you’re not a huge meat-eater, then you are going to definitely want to tune in for part two of this protein series, where we’ll rank the top non-animal protein sources and give you tips on how to make sure you are getting enough protein into your non-meat diet.

With all health practices, it’s important to strive towards balance — so if you do eat meat, there are still good rules of thumb to follow. 

How Much Protein You Need

It’s recommended that you eat about 30 grams of protein with each meal. Sounds like a lot, right? It actually isn’t. Remember our article about serving size? We discussed how to find the right serving size of protein, which is about the size of a deck of playing cards, or an iPhone. So, really, while 30 grams of protein sounds like a lot, it really isn’t that much volume-wise, especially when we are including an animal protein source.

Why We Need Protein

Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is a macronutrient. This means the body needs a substantial amount of it in order to function properly. In the case of protein, this is especially true and important because unlike the other macronutrients (carbohydrates and fat), the body does not have anywhere to store excess protein and, therefore, needs a constant supply of it from which to draw. 

Now protein is not just for body-builders, we all need it.

Protein, and animal protein, to be specific, is full of complete amino acids, and amino acids are great facilitators for burning fat, stimulating muscle growth, strengthening your immune system, and much more. Protein is also a vital component in tissue repair and regulating hormones

In fact, upping your intake of protein can actually work to reduce snacking and cravings.

This is because one of the amino acids found in protein, called tyrosine, is essential in the body’s ability to produce dopamine. By having optimal levels of tyrosine, the body will, in turn, maintain proper dopamine levels. And dopamine is the hormone heavily associated with things like addiction and cravings. 

And if you remember last week’s show about foods that help us feel fuller for longer, you know that eating protein is one of the best ways to help you feel fuller without consuming an excessive amount of calories. 

However, like any food, getting the benefits you want out of protein depends upon the type and quality of the protein you're consuming. 

Best Animal Proteins, Ranked

Fresh Fish

Fish may not technically be classified as an animal, but for the purpose of today’s discussion it is! Fresh fish, wild-caught using sustainable methods, is Dr. Nancy’s number one recommended source of animal protein.

There is so much controversy surrounding fish — and it’s too bad, because it’s so healthy and delicious, but we need to be so careful about where it comes from, whether it’s sustainable or not, how it’s prepared, and how much of it we eat. Stay tuned, because we’ll be tackling (pun intended) that issue real soon. 

Fish and seafood in general, is packed with protein. It's also low in calories and most fish have little fat. In fact, 4 ounces of most seafood has around 25 grams of protein, it is also extremely low in calories and has almost no saturated fat — making it a great source of protein.  In addition, and depending on the type of seafood you choose, it is also a great source of B vitamins, essential minerals like selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Dr. Nancy’s top seafood recommendations are:

  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Fresh tuna
  • Wild-caught shrimp (which can be hard to find)
  • Sustainable white fish like cod or haddock

Also, a quick word about buying fish: shopping for fresh fish at the grocery store can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to know if you’re getting a good quality product, especially if you’re new to buying and cooking fish. So, when you are buying fish, don’t be afraid to ask the guy behind the fish counter the tough questions: when was this fish caught? Was it frozen? where was the fish sourced from or what’s the best way to cook this type of fish? These are all great questions! 

Regardless of where you opt to get your seafood, make sure you are getting the freshest, sustainable seafood possible.

Turkey

It’s a close call when it comes to which type of poultry is best: turkey or chicken. In Dr. Nancy’s opinion, turkey breast wins. It’s easier to digest and lower in saturated fat than other animal proteins, even chicken. Four ounces of roasted, skinless turkey breast, contains about 32 grams of protein and just 115 calories.

In addition to being a great, low-fat source of protein, turkey is also high in several essential minerals, including niacin, b6 selenium, phosphorus, and zinc, which is great for giving your immune system and your memory a boost. 

Chicken

Chicken, specifically chicken breast, comes in as a close second to turkey. It’s lean, it’s low in saturated fat and calories, but also high in protein. That means, you get more bang for your buck. When choosing to eat chicken, you’re getting a high dose of protein without a major caloric intake, meaning you’ll feel fuller and more satisfied and won’t feel the need to overeat or snack later on in the day. Just make sure you skip the skin! A 4-ounce serving of chicken breast has about 32 grams of protein but has a little more fat than turkey.  

Also it’s important to point out that chicken and turkey’s nutrient profiles are often affected by their diets. Free-range and organic pasture-raised chickens and turkeys have higher antioxidant and omega-3 levels so please make sure you opt for them!

Red Meat

This one is a bit tricky — we hear so much about the dangers of red meat, but most Americans do eat it. And that’s okay... we just need to make sure we are choosing the right types and eating it only in moderation.

Most red meats have roughly 23-28g of protein per 4-ounce serving, but they can also have high levels of saturated fat — you can tell just by looking at a steak, that waxy, white stuff is all saturated fat, which we know contributes to inflammation and all types of health issues.

So, if you are going to eat red meat, opt for organic and grass-fed options — we recommend you even consider bison or buffalo. Whole Foods often carries these types of meat, and more grocery stores are starting to.

Bison is a grass-fed meat, which makes it leaner than a lot of other red meat varieties. Like turkey, it’s high in zinc, but it’s also high in vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, the latter of which are great for reducing the risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety and promoting eye health and cognitive function.  Bison and buffalo are also lower in calories, cholesterol, and fat content than chicken and have higher protein content than beef. They also tend to be high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that’s good for the eyes, brain, skin, and is even good for lung health. 

Now you really need to be aware of cuts of red meat, like New York strip or T-bone steaks — they are higher in saturated fat, so steer clear of those. Again, if you are going to opt for red meat, opt for leaner cuts of beef like, sirloin, flank steak, or filet mignon, which are all lower in saturated fat. When consuming beef, just make sure you do so in moderation — only one or two times a week, max! Also, you really want to look for grass-fed beef options, which are even leaner than non-grass-fed varieties;  it’s also lower in saturated fat and higher in key nutrients, including antioxidants and a specific beneficial fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that's been tied to improved immunity and anti-inflammation benefits.

Eggs

Okay, how can we talk animal sources of protein without mentioning the incredible, edible egg — the little orb of cholesterol controversy. We can eat them, then we can’t eat them, then we can, then we can’t… what do we do with all the conflicting information? Are they good for you or are they not?

Well, here are the facts: free-range eggs from organic chickens are all-natural, and provide one of the highest quality proteins of any food available. One egg provides more than six grams of protein, or 13% of the recommended daily value, and has just 70 calories; but the yolk has been the center of this cholesterol controversy.

For over a century, there has been this on-going debate about the cholesterol found in egg yolks and whether they are okay to eat. But it’s possible to avoid this debate altogether.

The cholesterol debate surrounding eggs becomes moot if you opt to just eat cholesterol-free egg whites. Those who opt to go yolkless can still enjoy several significant nutritional benefits. Consider this:

  • Egg whites contain nearly 70% of an egg’s protein. They are also fat-free and only contain 17 calories per white!  
  • Egg whites are made up of around 90% water and 10% protein.
  • In addition, each egg white contains 54 milligrams of potassium, an essential mineral of which most Americans do not get enough, 55 mg of sodium, and even some B12 vitamins!

So, Dr. Nancy’s recommendation is to really minimize the amount of egg yolks or whole eggs you eat, but enjoy as many egg whites as you please! Hardboiled, they are great on salads or as a snack. Try spinach and egg-white omelets, (cooked in olive oil instead of butter). So, when it comes to healthy animal sources of protein, egg whites are the way to go!

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

Try this for a perfect easy-to-peel hard-boiled egg every time! Steam your eggs for 15 minutes – here’s how:

  • Pour an inch of water into a pot and insert a steamer basket. 
  • Bring to a boil. 
  • Place the eggs in the steamer basket, cover and steam for 15 minutes (more or less —  check!). If you don't have a steamer basket, steam the eggs in a half-inch of water. 
  • The steam penetrates the shell a bit making the eggs easier to peel. 
  • Let them cool and you will have perfect, easy to peel eggs every single time!

Why Animal Protein Gets a Bad Rap

Let’s talk about about why some people either think animal protein is harmful and must be avoided altogether. Now, we’re not going to get into the ethical reasons for avoiding animal protein, which is an important discussion but not part of this show. We’re only going to focus on a few of the potential health risks and myths associated with consuming animal protein. 

In our ranking of animal proteins from best to worst, we mentioned that some animal proteins can be high in saturated fat, which can lead to things like heart disease, obesity, chronic inflammation, diabetes, and even cancer. This is absolutely true — especially if you choose a fattier cut of meat, or you choose an animal protein that isn’t grass-fed. This is a really important factors when consuming animal protein. So as much as possible, make sure it’s:

  • Lean
  • Grass-fed
  • Organic

If your turkey, chicken, or even red meat or pork is those three things, then you’re in good shape. 

One major myth surrounding eating too much animal protein is that it can contribute to osteoporosis. This stems from a belief that eating animal protein increases the amount of acid in your body, which then causes calcium to leave your bones so it can neutralize this new, overabundance of acid. This has been proven to not be the case. 

The reality is, animal protein can actually help prevent osteoporosis. Those who eat higher quantities of protein show greater muscle mass and maintain bone mass as they age, which reduces the risk of fracture and bone deterioration. 

And for all our vegans and vegetarians out there, we didn’t forget you! In part two of this series, we’ll discuss:

  • Lentils
  • Beans and chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts – peanuts, almonds 
  • Beans with rice, and more!

Wrap-Up

Today, we focused on animal proteins, and ranked them from best to worst with fish, turkey and chicken coming in among the best, and red meat being the animal protein you would want to eat the least. We also spent a little bit of time tackling the controversy surrounding eggs, and solved that issue by recommending only egg whites!  

Most animal proteins we discussed are high in zinc, iron, and vitamin B — all essential for muscle and bone health, a strong immune system, and healthy cholesterol levels

Protein, in general, is important because it’s a macronutrient and the body needs a constant, dose of it because the body doesn’t hold any in reserves. In addition, Protein:  

  • is vital in muscle and tissue repair
  • it helps with muscle strength and growth 
  • it helps reduce cravings, which can help maintain healthy weight
  • is essential for your overall health

If you are someone who does not consume animal protein, there are still plenty of ways for you to get your 30 grams of protein per meal, too. For those of you who only eat fish, tuna, salmon, and shrimp are good go-to options, and for those of you who are vegetarians and vegans, bump up your intake of nuts, seeds, quinoa, and beans, and make sure you join us for part 2 of our protein series.

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