There’s a misconception that trimming inches from your waistline requires skipping meals or subsisting only on crudités. Here’s what will hopefully be welcome news to anyone trying to lose weight: Deprivation is not the key to weight loss. (Not healthy weight loss, anyway.)
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or not, it’s still important to make sure you’re hitting the recommended daily requirements for all necessary nutrients, including fiber, protein and micronutrients. In fact, registered dietitians say that nutrients including protein, fiber and healthy fats are all key for healthy weight loss because they help you feel full—making someone less likely to overeat nutrient-poor food later.
But when you’re trying to lose weight, knowing what protein sources are best is tricky as many protein sources are high in calories, and often fat. Here, registered dietitians explain how to strike the right balance of getting enough protein while trying to lose weight—plus a list of 10 foods that will help you do it.
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How to Balance Your Protein Needs With Your Weight Loss Goals
Registered dietitian Nina Dahan, DR, says that protein needs depend on someone’s individual health goals, age, height, how active they are and if they have any underlying health issues that need to be taken into consideration. It can be helpful to work with a dietitian, nutritionist or primary care doctor to help you determine exactly how much protein a day is best for you. But in general, she says that protein should consist of 30 to 40 percent of someone’s daily calorie intake, or one gram per pound of body weight.
Registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Kim Juul, DR, CPT, says that when it comes to choosing protein sources when you’re trying to lose weight, think lean. “I advise my clients to limit high-fat meat sources. Foods like ribeye and bacon should be [enjoyed] in moderation,” she says. “If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to choose lean protein sources. These will be lower in calories than high-fat protein sources.”
Dahan agrees. “Leaner proteins are a better choice because they have less of the pro-inflammatory fats, namely trans and saturated fats,” she says, adding that these types of fats are associated with excess body fat as well as medical issues like heart disease, fatty , liver and type two diabetes.
While you may have to cut back on bacon and ribeye, you certainly won’t be going hungry; there is no shortage of lean protein sources to choose from. Below are 10 protein sources for weight loss, all registered dietitian-approved.
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10 Protein Sources to Help You Lose Body Fat
1. Skinless chicken or turkey
If you love chicken or turkey but are trying to lose weight, Juul says to just go skinless. How you prepare your chicken matters too. Baking, air-frying or stir-frying are all healthier ways to cook chicken than frying.
2. Lean cuts of beef or pork
You don’t have to completely cut ties with beef or pork if you want to lose weight. Juul says to just go for lean cuts. Lean beef and pork are lower in saturated fat than red meat.
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“Fish is high in protein and low in calories, which makes it great for those trying to lose weight,” Juul says. “You can eat a large portion of fish, which will make you feel full, but will not add a bunch of extra calories to your diet.” She adds that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are an important nutrient, supporting both brain and heart health.
Related: 5 Delicious, Healthy Fish That Will Pack an Omega-3 Punch Without Too Much Mercury
Can you still eat eggs and trim body fat? Juul says absolutely; just be mindful about your intake. “A whole egg is very healthy, but higher in calories than an egg white, due to the fat in the yolk. For weight loss, I recommend a combination of one to two whole eggs plus egg whites,” she says. This combination will ensure you get adequate protein without too much fat. Dahan says that whole eggs are also more filling than just eating egg whites alone, another reason why it’s a good idea to have both.
5. Beans and lentils
“Beans and lentils are a great protein for weight loss because they’re full of fiber, which helps with satiety,” Dahan says. Scientific studies show a direct link between fiber intake and weight loss, yet another reason to incorporate beans and lentils into your meals if you’re trying to lose body fat.
Similar to beans, chickpeas are high in both protein and fiber, making them another great food to add to your shopping list. Besides incorporating chickpeas in their whole form into your meals, experiment with hummus too, such as using it as a sandwich spreadable or in grain bowls.
Another great protein source for weight loss that Juul recommends is tofu. Like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, tofu is full of fiber and very low in saturated fat. Other soy protein sources, like tempeh and edamame have these beneficial traits too.
8. Low-fat dairy
Juul says that low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy products all contain protein as well as other beneficial nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, while being low-fat (as the name indicates). Greek yogurt is a particularly good source of protein.
9. Protein powders
Want your morning or post-workout smoothie to actually fill you up? Both dietitians say adding protein powder will make it more satiating. Juul likes pea protein in particular, an easy-to-digest plant-based protein.
10. Nuts and seeds
Dahan says that nuts and seeds have great protein, but it’s easy to eat several serving sizes without even realizing it, so it’s a protein source to be mindful of. “Studies show that people who snack mindfully on nuts are able to lose weight,” she says. To avoid overeating them, she recommends choosing nuts and seeds that need a little more effort to eat, like pistachios or peanuts in the shell. Dahan says that almonds are another great option because they’re higher in fiber and lower in fat than most other nuts.
As you can see, there is no shortage of protein-filled foods to enjoy while focusing on the health goal of losing belly fat. Besides, it’s way more enjoyable than going hungry!
Next up, here are eight simple ways to lose belly fat naturally.