In the past three weeks, you have learned how vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy can help you fill your plate with quality nutrients that don't pack a lot of calories. Now it's time to address protein. Getting enough is not something most of us need to worry about, but selecting well is.
Your goal is to eat five to six ounces of lean and healthy protein a day. Eat it all in one meal (most restaurant servings of protein are at least five ounces), or eat smaller portions throughout the day. I often tell clients to divide their plate into quarters: Three quarters should be filled with whole grains and vegetables; one quarter should be a serving of protein—such as shrimp, fish, chicken, beans, tofu, lean cuts of beef, or pork—about the size of a deck of cards. Poultry and meat can take little time to cook (grilling and searing in a hot, nonstick pan) or a lot of hands-off time (braising and stewing until they are fork-tender and flavorful).
Some high-protein foods are rich in protective nutrients, such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts and fish like wild salmon. Use nuts as a garnish to add flavor, texture, and toastiness to salad, or eat a small handful as a snack. Beans are a near-perfect food—high in protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, calcium, and magnesium, and very low in fat. Puree them into dips and spreads, or add them to salads, soups, stews, and casseroles for extra protein oomph.