What Is A Lean Protein?

by Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Last Updated: December 22, 2020

When reading through nutrition articles, you may find that health professionals repetitively recommend lean protein choices in a healthy eating pattern. While most people agree with this advice, few can define it. When you hear lean protein, what comes to mind? Chicken and fish are common responses, but it’s important to note that there are several other options. Let’s discuss ways to help you gain more variety in selecting lean proteins.

Protein foods can be divided into two categories – animal-based and plant-based.

For animal-based proteins, lean protein choices are categorized based on the amount of fat per ounce. A standard serving size of animal-based protein is 3 ounces cooked or about the palm of your hand’s size and thickness. Often, it is the quantity that makes meat an unhealthy choice rather than the meat itself. The best choices in this category are chicken or turkey (white meat without the skin), fish (cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna, salmon), shellfish (clams, crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp), beef (sirloin, flank steak, tenderloin, rib roast), pork (tenderloin, center loin chop), lamb (roast, chop, leg), and eggs, egg whites, egg substitutes. Use the parameters below when reading the labels for items commonly consumed in your household. If you need swaps, a Kroger Health Dietitian can guide you to a better-for-you choice.
  • Very Lean contains 0-1 gram of fat per ounce
  • Lean contains 3 grams of fat per ounce
  • Medium Fat contains 5 grams of fat per ounce
  • High Fat contains 7 grams of fat per ounce

For plant-based proteins, all would be considered lean protein choices because they contain low to no fat. For beans and legumes, a standard serving is a ½ cup. For tofu, a standard serving is 3 ounces. While nuts and seeds contain higher fat, it is unsaturated fat, making them a heart-healthy choice. A standard serving is 1 ounce. Plant-based protein options are a great food choice to begin incorporating weekly if you are not already doing so. For some recipe inspiration, check out our recipes on Kroger.com.

The key to a well-balanced diet always lies in variety, and our goal as Kroger Health Dietitians is to help you experience all the benefits and nutrients that food choices can offer. Click here to schedule an appointment.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN

Anna is a positive, motivating dietitian who is ready to help make healthy happen in your life. Whether you have a medical condition or hoping to get back to your goal weight, Anna is eager to connect you with tasty recipes, budget-friendly food products, and time-saving hacks to ensure that your goals will be achieved. Outside of work, Anna enjoys barre/pilates, sushi, and online shopping!