We generally try to group foods into macronutrient categories for the sake of simple exchanges in meal planning (ex: “this is a carbohydrate food, this is a protein food, etc”), but let’s keep in mind that not all foods that contain protein are created equal. So, what does 20 grams of protein really look like?
These numbers were collected from the USDA Food Database, and keep in mind some of these nutrition facts differ by brand, additives, etc. Also note that this is based on the raw weight of these meats. This highlights the importance of consistency in tracking meats as cooked vs. raw.
Clearly, there are many different ways to get 20 grams of protein which vary in volume and in contents of other macros. Protein souces also can differ dramatically by amino acid profiles and by how conducive they are to optimal muscle protein synthesis.
Generally for weight loss, people tend to focus on lean meats for protein sources, but as you can see here there are plenty of other options too. But not all of these should necessarily be called “protein foods”.
Do people still say they eat peanut butter for the protein? Can we stop doing that now or…?
Also, black beans and a ribeye steak aren’t necessarily great examples of “protein foods” either, because both have significant amounts of other macros too.
To swap out 20 grams of protein worth of whey protein for 20 grams of protein worth of 2% milk would not result in the same amount of calories and macros.
Also, can I just say for the record that pork tenderloin is a very underrated lean meat?
This is just a graphic to help frame your thinking about protein sources. You can certainly fit into your macros whatever foods you plan for and enjoy, and variety is the spice of life.
What are your favorite protein sources?
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CPt