Lean Protein Foods for a Low-Fat, High-Protein Diet

Are you interested in losing fat and building muscle? Lean protein foods can help.


A low-fat, high-protein diet is a healthy eating plan that can help you lose weight, build muscle and achieve a more toned and defined body. This diet calls for lean protein foods that support muscle-building and fat-burning. The list of lean foods high in protein includes choices like legumes, skinless chicken and lean cuts of beef. 

Fresh N Lean is a meal delivery service that provides food made with organic ingredients. Our tasty, chef-prepared cuisine is always fresh and never frozen, and we offer several convenient meal plans: Protein+, Keto, Paleo, Whole30, Standard Vegan and Low-Carb Vegan. Choose Fresh N Lean for affordable nutrition, delivered to your doorstep. 

Whether you’re interested in weight loss or muscle-building, a low-fat, high-protein diet can help you reach your fitness goals.

Lean protein foods are at the center of this eating plan. These foods provide protein to help your body burn fat and pack on lean muscle. 

So, what foods have lean protein, and which ones are best suited for your low-fat, high-protein diet? 

In this article, we will:

  • Define lean protein foods 
  • Offer guidance on choosing foods that have lean protein
  • List essential lean proteins

What are lean protein foods?

Many foods are high in protein, but they vary in the amount of fat they contain. Some high-protein foods are also high in fat. Nuts and seeds are good examples; a cup of almonds contains a whopping 74 grams of fat.

Lean protein foods provide lots of protein, and they’re also relatively low in fat. This mix of macronutrients can help you achieve a more chiseled and defined physique. Many people turn to lean protein foods for weight loss. And body-builders often rely on lean protein foods for muscle building.

Many lean protein-rich foods also contain relatively few calories, so they’re excellent choices if you’re seeking to curb your calorie intake. 

How to choose lean protein foods when grocery shopping

When shopping for protein, it’s common to find lean and higher-fat options within the same food category. It sometimes takes knowledge and discernment to distinguish one from the other. 

Here are some tips that will help you choose lean protein-rich foods in the grocery store:

1. Select white-fleshed fish

Fish is an excellent protein source, but some types of fish are relatively high in fat. If you’re shopping for lean protein foods, select white-fleshed fish. This type of fish tends to be lower in fat than fish with darker flesh, such as salmon. Here are some examples of white-fleshed fish:

  • Haddock
  • Cod
  • Pollock
  • Halibut 
  • Tilapia

So, how much fat and protein will you get from white-fleshed fish? A filet of cod contains just 1.5 grams of fat and a healthy 41 grams of protein. 

2. Opt for white-meat poultry

Whether you choose chicken or turkey, poultry is a protein-rich food. However, some cuts have more fat than others, and it takes some insight to identify the best options for lean meat.

Dark-meat cuts like chicken drumsticks and thighs tend to be highest in fat. If you’re on the hunt for lean protein foods, look for white-meat cuts of poultry; examples include chicken breast, chicken wings and breast tenderloins. 

3. Look for low-fat or nonfat cottage cheese

Cottage cheese contains lots of protein. Regular cottage cheese isn’t that high in fat; it contains 10 grams per cup. But you can slash the fat content by choosing the low-fat or nonfat version.

Low-fat cottage cheese contains 2 to 6 grams of fat per cup. And a cup of the nonfat version contains just 0.4 grams of fat – it’s an excellent addition to your arsenal of lean foods rich in protein.

4. Pick grass-fed beef

Grass-fed beef is lower in total fat than conventional beef, and it offers other advantages. For example, compared to conventionally raised beef, grass-fed beef has more omega-3 fatty acids; these acids support heart health. Also, grass-fed beef provides a higher level of antioxidant vitamins than conventional beef. Overall, it’s a superb lean protein food for those who eat red meat. 

5. Look for lean cuts of beef

Whether you choose conventionally raised or grass-fed beef, look for lean cuts. The leanest cuts of beef often include “loin” and “round” in their descriptor. For example, sirloin steak, tenderloin and round steak are lean cuts. 

If a nutrition label is present, you can check it to determine how much fat a cut contains. So, how much fat does a lean cut of beef have? According to the Mayo Clinic, for every cooked 100-gram serving, a lean cut of beef has less than 10 grams of total fat and less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat. And cuts labeled extra-lean have less than 5 grams of total fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per 100-gram serving.

Also, when looking for lean protein foods, opt for meat cuts labeled “Choice” or “Select” instead of “Prime.” Prime cuts tend to be highest in fat. 

Finally, select ground beef that’s at least 95 percent lean. A 100-gram serving of this lean ground beef has about 6.5 grams of total fat. 

6. Choose low-fat tofu

Tofu is a superb source of plant protein, and it’s useful for those who choose not to consume foods made with animal products. Regular tofu doesn’t contain an excessive amount of fat; it has 12 grams of fat per cup, along with 20 grams of protein. But if you choose the low-fat or lite version, the fat content drops to about 1 gram. As such, it’s a great addition to your list of lean protein-rich foods for weight loss and muscle-building.

7. Select low-fat or skim milk

Whole milk is high in healthy protein (8 grams per cup). It contains about 8 grams of fat per cup; you can slash that number by choosing low-fat and skim (nonfat) versions. For example, milk with 1 percent fat has just 2 grams of fat per cup, and a cup of skim milk has a mere 0.2 grams of fat. Choose the low-fat or skim version when including milk in your lineup of lean proteins.

Essential lean protein foods

Here are some lean proteins to add to your shopping list:

  • White-meat chicken or turkey (consume skinless, since the skin adds fat)
  • Lean ground beef
  • Sirloin steak
  • Beans such as kidney beans, garbanzo beans, black beans and navy beans
  • Lentils
  • Low-fat or nonfat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat tofu
  • White-fleshed fish such as cod and halibut
  • Edamame
  • Low-fat or skim milk
  • Shrimp
  • Egg whites
  • Bison
  • Peas
  • Soy protein powder
  • Whey protein powder

Next steps

If you want to boost your protein intake and add more lean proteins to your diet, subscribe to Fresh N Lean. We deliver our chef-prepared high-protein meals to your home or office, and we make them with organic ingredients. Our menu includes everything from bean and lentil dishes to cod and grass-fed beef options.