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Be a Lean Protein Machine

Choosing lean options like chicken breast and fish over red meat can improve your cardiovascular health. Try these recipes to get started.

by goldsgym

What makes a protein lean? Lean protein has less saturated fat — the type of fat in food, mainly from animal sources, that raises cholesterol levels in the blood.

Lean protein has less than 3 grams of fat and around 50 calories per serving, according to both the Mayo Clinic and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. While there’s a place for some saturated fat in your diet, the American Heart Association recommends limiting it to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily total calories.

“Saturated fats will create a fatty buildup in arteries that will lead to cardiovascular disease,” says Connie Cheng, Gold’s Gym wellness director. “Chicken breast and fish have less saturated fat than dark meat chicken and red meat.”

A lean lifestyle

Pursuing better health is all about changing behavior, but that doesn’t have to happen all at once.

“Make small changes,” Cheng says. “If you’re someone who eats a lot of red meat, substitute lean protein into one of your favorite recipes to start. Then try a theme like ‘meatless Monday.’ It encourages you to use your creativity to cook a meal based on vegetables and legumes, but this can definitely be flexible and allow fish. The point is to get in better sources of protein other than red meat.”

With steady effort, you are more likely to succeed in getting your red meat consumption down to once per week, the recommended amount. Here are our tips on how to incorporate lean proteins into your diet:

  1. Prepare lean protein with a wet cooking method, such as marinating, braising or stewing. “Leaner protein is naturally dryer,” Cheng says, so using a wet method “makes the meat more tender.”
  2. If you’re planning to have red meat, choose a lean cut. “Look for the ones labeled round, loin or sirloin,” she says.

Your Favorite Red Meat Recipes Made With Lean Proteins

Try these steak, slider, pasta and meatloaf dishes — all without red meat.

Chicken Bolognese With Penne

(Recipe from Food Network, courtesy of Wolfgang Puck)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chicken (preferably lean)
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
Pinch chili flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup tomato juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Directions

Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. When the oil is hot, add the ground chicken and cook until well browned, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and chili flakes and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Carefully deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Reduce until the white wine is almost completely evaporated.

Add the tomato sauce and juice and simmer until you get a thick sauce consistency, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook the penne in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside. Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the sauce. Add the drained pasta to the sauce along with the Parmesan, and toss well. Serve in a large bowl garnished with parsley leaves.

Chicken Meatloaf

(Recipe from Genius Kitchen)

Ingredients

1 pound ground chicken (preferably lean)
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 large egg white
1 medium carrot
1 small onion
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. In large bowl, combine chicken and breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Cut the carrot and onion into chunks and add to blender. Add the remaining seven ingredients to the blender. Process in blender until carrot is very fine.

Pour blender mixture over meat mixture. Mix very well using your hands. Form mixture into a loaf and place in lightly greased 9-by-13-inch pan.

Cover with foil and bake for 60 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 15-30 minutes, until loaf is cooked through.

Garlic Herb Grilled Tuna Steaks

(Recipe from Taste of Home)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, minced
4 tuna steaks (6 ounces each)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the lemon juice, oil, garlic and thyme. Add the tuna; seal bag and turn to coat. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Remove tuna from bag; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drain and discard marinade. Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil, and then lightly coat the grill rack with it using long-handled tongs.

Grill tuna, covered, over medium-hot heat, or broil 4 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare or until slightly pink in the center.

Salmon Sliders With Chipotle Mayonnaise

(Recipe from FamilyCircle)

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon adobo sauce, from canned chipotle in adobo
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
16 Party Potato Rolls (from a 15-ounce package of 24)

Lettuce (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/2 cup of the reduced-fat mayonnaise and the adobo. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In work bowl of a food processor, add salmon, red pepper, scallions, panko, remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Pulse until just combined. Form into 16 patties, about 1/4 cup each. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Cook patties in batches for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until browned and cooked through.

Place patties on rolls and spread 1 1/2 teaspoon chipotle mayonnaise over each. Add lettuce if desired, and serve.

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