9 min read

What Are Lean Protein Foods for Weight Loss?

Written by

Jump to section

Summary: Lean protein foods are a great source of nutrients, especially when to keep your weight in check. Here are eight unique foods to keep those pounds off.

Many believe that lean protein helps to lose weight because they are said to keep our bodies feel full longer, thus making us eat less. 

Eric Edmeades, the author of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest, says, “Exercise only makes you healthier if you get your nutrition handled correctly first.

He adds, “If you aren’t putting in the correct nutrition, very often the exercise will end up damaging the body.

Lean proteins are definitely a great source of nutrition, especially if you are a regular at exercising and keeping your health in check.

In this article, we’ll learn about finding the best clean protein source your body craves.  And we’ll also answer some key questions such as, “how does lean protein help you lose weight?” and “what high protein low-fat foods should you eat?”.

What Is a Lean Protein?

Before we talk about lean proteins, we first have to explain what protein is and what it does.

Protein, one of the three macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) is responsible for many critical roles in the body such as:

  • Antibodies to fight against viruses and bacteria
  • Enzymes carry out thousands of chemical reactions
  • Messengers to transmit signals
  • Support for the body to move
  • A transport or storage for atoms and small molecules

Proteins are necessary to keep our body alive but some high protein foods such as fatty cuts of pork, beef, or lamb come with saturated fat (a.k.a. bad fat).

This is where high protein low-fat foods come in. They provide high-quality protein without the health drawbacks of unhealthy fats.

What makes food a lean protein?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020, the definition of “lean protein” refers to every 100 grams of beef (or any type of meat) containing less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. 

How much protein should I eat per day?

The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for protein is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. 

Use this formula to determine your daily protein intake:

  • Weight in pounds x 0.36
  • Weight in kilogram x 0.8

Generally, for people with a healthy weight, the average male needs 56-91g per day, and the average female needs 46-75g per day.

lean protein for weight loss

Does Lean Protein Help to Lose Weight?

According to science, YES. 

Lean protein foods get to keep their reputation in weight loss thanks to three big reasons: 1) increased satiety, 2) highest thermic of food, and 3) less saturated fats.

1. Increased fullness

The feeling of hunger in the body is orchestrated by a band of hormones in our bodies called amylin and ghrelin.

Ghrelin sends the “I’m hungry” signal, while amylin sends the “I’m full” signal.

Numerous studies have discovered that protein plays a role in controlling hunger. Protein reduces ghrelin and increases amylin, but researchers are still unclear about how protein interferes with the hormones. 

To conclude, high protein low-fat foods tend to make you feel full for longer periods. 

However, it may not help in preventing emotional eating binges. To help you understand why you indulge in emotional eating, it all starts with understanding your relationship with food. 

2. Highest thermic effect of food (TEF)

The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy used to digest, absorb and metabolize foods.

In general, protein uses 20-30% of its usable energy for metabolism and storage, carbohydrate uses 5-10% and dietary fat requires 0-3%.

In other words, low-fat high protein foods help you burn more calories, although several studies have indicated the protein TEF is highly variable and difficult to quantify. 

3. Less saturated fats and trans fats

Different parts of the meat have different amounts of calories, proteins, fats, and other nutrients. Take beef for example. 

Let’s take boneless beef as an example. A 4-ounce lean beef tenderloin steak has 153 calories, 25g of protein, and 5.8g of fats. Whereas America’s sweetheart favorite, 4-ounce beef rib-eye steak has 272 calories, 21.1g of protein, and 20.8g of fats

See how different beef cuts can have a drastically different amounts of fats?

When choosing to eat lean meat cuts, you’re also reducing the number of bad fats, helping to lower bad cholesterol in your body.

What Are High Protein Foods for Weight Loss?

Eating the right high-protein low-fat foods not only helps you shed some fats but also enhances your health in the process.

Weight loss is not a thing. Health is a thing. Weight loss is just a byproduct of health.

— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest

Below we’ve curated a list of foods that are considered to be lean proteins with their nutritional facts so you can plan your diet better.

nuts for weight loss

1. Nuts

These chewy and crispy nuts are more than just snacks.

Nuts offer a whole slew of health benefits, such as reducing risks of heart diseases, less likely to gain weight or become obese, and they make you feel full. 

It’s the perfect low fat high protein foods to lose weight effectively

For every 1.5 ounces (43 grams)

  • Peanut: 249 calories, 10.1g of protein, 21.1g of fat
  • Almond: 254 calories, 9.4g of protein, 22.5g of fat
  • Pistachio: 243 calories, 9.1g of protein, 19.6g of fat
  • Cashew: 244 calories, 6.5g of protein, 19.7g of fat
  • Walnut: 278 calories, 6.5g of protein, 27.7g of fat
  • Hazelnut: 275 calories, 6.5g of protein, 26.5g of fat
  • Pecan: 302 calories, 4.0g of protein, 31.6g of fat
  • Macadamia: 305 calories, 3.3g of protein, 32.4g of fat
seeds for weight loss

2. Seeds

Did you know that plant seeds pack a ton of nutrients in a single tablespoon?

Seeds are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a potent food for reducing cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

For every 1 ounce (28.45g),

  • Hemp seeds: 166 calories, 9.5g of protein, and 14.6g of fat
  • Pumpkin seeds: 158 calories, 8.6g of protein and 14g of fat
  • Sunflower seeds: 166 calories, 5.9 protein, and 14.6g of fat
  • Flax seeds: 152 calories, 5.2g of protein, and 12g of fat
  • Chia seeds: 138 calories, 4.7g of protein, and 8.7g of fat
  • Sesame seeds: 159 calories, 4.7g of protein, and 13.5g of fat
soy for weight loss

3. Soy

Soy protein is one of the few plant-based foods that are considered “complete protein— a protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids.

Studies showed that nutrients in soy aid in reducing the risks of coronary heart disease, total cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases.

Thanks to the abundance of nutrients ⁠in soy (protein, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and thiamin), soy is considered to be one of the best high protein low calorie foods for weight loss.

For every 100g,

  • Tofu: 76 calories, 8g of protein, and 4.9g of fat
  • Edamame: 121 calories, 12g of protein, and 5.2g of fat
  • Soy milk: 43 calories, 2.6g of protein, and 1.5g of fat
  • Tempeh: 195 calories, 20g of protein, and 12g of fat
  • Soy nuts: 469 calories, 38g of protein, and 25g of fat

Important note: 94% of soybeans in the U.S are genetically modified organisms (GMO). If you’re not a fan of GMO products, opt for organic or non-GMO.  

legumes for weight loss

4. Legumes

Compared to red meat, legumes are a much better choice; they are packed with the same nutrients as red meat but with fewer drawbacks. 

Dr. Meir Stampfer, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says, “It seems clear that replacing red meat with legumes can reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even certain cancers.

“Wait, what are legumes?”

They are high protein vegetables consisting of edible beans, peas, and lentils — like black beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), snow peas, soybeans, peanuts, and more.

Legumes and beans are rich in plant protein, fiber, iron, calcium, folate, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Their impressive nutritional profile makes them great high-protein low-fat foods.

For every 100g,

  • Adzuki beans: 128 calories, 7.5g of protein, and 0.1g of fat
  • Black beans: 132 calories, 8.9g of protein, and 0.5g of fat
  • Broad Beans (also known as fava beans): 110 calories, 7.6g of protein, and 0.4g of fat
  • Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas): 164 calories, 8.86g of protein, and 2.6g of fat
  • Lentils: 116 calories, 9g of protein, and 0.4g of fat
seafood for weight loss

5. Seafood

Good news, seafood lovers! Most seafood is lean protein, and they’re loaded with nutrients and benefits. They can help to decrease the risks of stroke, hypertension, obesity, and heart attack.

Some of the healthiest fishes you should eat (high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury) are salmon, trout, herring, anchovies, sardines, Pacific oysters, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.

For every 100g,

  • Salmon: 188 calories, 25g of protein, and 9g of fat
  • Trout: 177 calories, 25g of protein, 7.8g of fat
  • Anchovy: 210 calories, 29g of protein, 9.7g of fat
  • Sardine: 208 calories, 24.6g of protein, 11.4g of fat
  • Pacific oyster: 163 calories, 19g of protein, 4.6g of fat
  • Atlantic mackerel: 262 calories, 23.8g of protein, 17.8g of fat
  • Pacific mackerel:  201 calories, 25.7g of protein, 10g of fat

Important note:

Most fish contain high mercury levels which are considered a contaminant that can cause genetic abnormalities and damage brain or kidneys functions. Research what’s the best fish to eat that is safe for you and the environment.

To help ensure safe seafood eating and high mercury intake, eat a variety of fish and avoid fish high in mercury — such as tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. 

raw meat for weight loss

6. Meat

So red meat is a confusing one. It has been a debate of many saying it’s good for you while others say that protein from meat sources is dangerous to your health in the long run.

One debate, for example, is how beef, pork, buffalo, mutton, and venison are not good for heart health because they contain a lot of fats and cholesterol, however, this only holds true for highly-processed red meat.

On the other hand, a clean and unprocessed cut of lean beef is rich in healthy proteins and micronutrients. 

For every 100g,

  • 5% fat ground beef: 137 calories, 21.4g of protein, and 5g of fat
  • 4% fat ground pork: 121 calories, 21.1g of protein, and 4g of fat
  • Venison: 116 calories, 21.5g of protein, 2.6g of fat
  • Ground bison: 146 calories, 20.2g of protein, 7.2g of fat

You might say, “What about bacon? Is bacon a lean protein?” 

The answer is a big No Way! Bacon is not considered a lean protein ever.

A 100g of cooked pork bacon contains 34g of fat, 12g of saturated fats, and 99mg of cholesterol. Its fat content is at least 3x higher than typical lean meat and it’s a highly processed meat. 

Without a doubt, bacon is a big no-no in your diet.

Important notes: 

  • When choosing lean beef, look for parts that have words like “loin,” “round” or “roast”. And certain steak parts like flank and chuck shoulder steaks.  
  • For beef grades, opt for “select” or “choice” instead of prime” as prime-grade cuts typically contain more fats. 
  • For lean pork, look for words like “loin” or “chop”.
  • If possible, try to opt for meats that come from grass-fed sources as opposed to grain-fed. 
poultry for weight loss

7. Poultry

Also known as white meat, these lean cuts are super low in fats and loaded with healthy proteins.

A piece of skinless chicken breast (272g) contains 326 calories, 61.2g of proteins, and 7.13g of fats.

A 4-ounce (113g) turkey breast offers 129 calories, 26.7g of protein, and 1.7g of fat.

Surprisingly, lean poultry contains very few carbohydrates which are perfect for weight loss diets.

Important note: Always aim for skinless breasts. Skip the drumsticks and thighs because they contain more fats.

8. Eggs

E.G.G. The most convenient power food.

It’s undeniable that eggs are one of the best high protein low calorie foods — a large boiled egg (50g) has 71 calories, 6.24g protein, and 4.72g of fats.

That’s pretty impressive for a single egg, but do you know which has higher protein content: the egg white or the yolk?

Believe it or not, a single yolk has the same amount of protein as a single egg white! 

All the more reason to add yolks into your diet.  But not too much as yolks are high in cholesterol so eat it sparingly.

A Take Home Message

Before you eat non-functional foods, get the nutrients you need first.

— Eric Edmeades, Author of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest

If high protein low-fat foods listed above don’t come close to what you eat every day, you might feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start. You don’t have to feel guilty about it.

The problem is with the modern diet

We’ve been influenced by the food industry to eat non-functional foods (nutritionless foods or empty calories) that give us instant gratification instead of long-term health for our bodies. 

What do you mean by non-functional foods?

Non-functional foods mostly contain empty calories, refined sugar, unhealthy fats, and minimal nutrients that our bodies truly need. Things like soda, donuts, fast foods, biscuits, pastries, and ice creams are all examples of nutritionless non-functional food.

Although these non-foods have deeply penetrated into our daily diet, we still hold the power to change that

The first step is to realize the big food industry lies and understand what you’re really eating.

Jump to section

Get 1% better every day
Subscribe to our newsletter
By adding your email you agree to receiving daily insights on personal development & promotions*

Recommended free masterclass for you

How to Eat Your Way to Your Ideal Weight, Extraordinary Health & a Lifetime of Youthful Vitality

Join nutrition expert Eric Edmeades in this free masterclass as he shares game-changing "food philosophy" knowledge, giving you the tools to regain your wellness & vitalityEnroll for free

Written by

Tifa Ong

Tifa is a former contributing content writer for Mindvalley Journal. She specializes in writing about nutrition and parenting.
Picture of Tifa Ong

Tifa Ong

Tifa is a former contributing content writer for Mindvalley Journal. She specializes in writing about nutrition and parenting.

You might also like

Popular Stories
No data was found
No data was found
Asset 1

Fact-Checking: Our Process

Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

The Mindvalley fact-checking guidelines are based on:

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.