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Published on September 03, 2019

cook taking pan of roasted chicken and veggies out of oven

Get Lean with Protein

Tom Haverford from the popular show “Parks and Recreation” enthusiastically encourages the world with three words:

“Treat. Yo. Self.”

And treat yourself, you should. However, when you find yourself straining to button your pants, perhaps you treated yo-self too much.

These days, who isn’t trying to un-treat themselves? Workout programs, eating plans, energy pills, and pricey shakes — how many have you gone through to find the “one for you?”

A healthier diet will include a healthier approach to protein. We strive for lean meats, especially chicken, turkey and fish. If you’re not truly devoted to the long haul of losing and maintaining your weight, your meals will become repetitive, boring and less satisfying. Then, the leftover graduation cake in the break room will derail you.

Cheryl Rude, RD, Avera registered dietitian, offers a few thoughts to broaden your menu. “Lean meats include more than broiled fish. In fact, many of America’s favorite cuts of meat can be a lean meat.”

Lean meat is defined as a 3-ounce serving of something with 10 grams or less of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams or less of cholesterol. Under these guidelines, you can have a variety of different cuts of meat, including beef sirloin, pork tenderloin or plant-based proteins. Plant-based options are even leaner yet.

When we diet, we tend to hype up the amount of protein that we need. According to the Recommended Daily Allowances, adult women need 46 grams and adult men need 56 grams of protein per day. When 1 ounce equals 7 grams, it doesn’t take long to fulfill the daily requirements — especially when protein is found in beans, lentils, nuts and dairy products.  

Children, athletes and pregnant women have different allowances; the latter two needing particularly more than the regular recommendations. Talk to your primary care physician or a registered dietitian for protein requirements for your particular situation.

“The main benefits of choosing lean meats are the less saturated fat and cholesterol content,” said Rude. “However, you receive a great source or protein, vitamins, minerals, iron and zinc.” Protein also offers additional satiety to dieters.

Dress Up Your Protein

Rude said the biggest complaint about cooking lean meat is the potential dryness because of the lower fat content. However, Rude’s personal tips can prevent a bland meal for you and the family.

  • Try a stir fry. Chop up veggies and your meat of choice and toss into a stir fry. Experiment with Asian sauces and spices, which are often low in fat (however, they may be high in sodium). 
  • Call in a substitution. If you’re making spaghetti, for example, substitute ground beef with ground turkey. Or, if you still prefer a beefy spaghetti sauce, put in half ground beef and half ground turkey.
  • Of course, the InstaPot. Cooking a piece of meat in the InstaPot keeps the moisture in and the cook time low. However, unless you spice and steam veggies with the meat, your meal might turn out quite plain.
  • In the oven. A roasting pan allows you to roast a lean cut of meat on a rack above the juices without it becoming soggy. Putting a tinfoil tent over the meat will also help prevent it from drying out.
  • Get the grill. It isn’t just for summertime. Grilling meat and veggies together allows juice and flavors to mix with the smoky charcoal aroma.
  • Catch of the day. Be careful about overcooking fish. Sprinkle lemon juice and lemon pepper seasoning onto your filet before wrapping in tinfoil. Put in the oven or on the grill until done. 

In addition, it’s important to own a meat thermometer to cook your meal safely. Your specific cuts of meat should reach the following internal cooking temperatures:

  • Ground meat – 160 degrees F
  • Poultry – 165 degrees F
  • Steak/muscle meat – 145 degrees F
  • Fish – 145 degrees F

“Also, it isn’t just the meat you should think about, but also the cooking method,” said Rude. “The real goal of cooking healthy is to avoid adding more fat and calories through deep-fat frying or using creamy sauces.”

If you want to slim down, the equation is simple: eat fewer calories and move more. Invest in your meal creativity to keep yourself on the right path and away from the allure of office donuts. 

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