Daily minimum for a green badge: 50 grams of protein (125 for 2,000 calories in Lark Diabetes)
Meal minimum for a green badge: 17 grams of protein (42 in Lark Diabetes)
Why healthy protein is good
Protein is a nutrient that is necessary for maintaining muscle mass, supporting a healthy immune system, and letting your body function properly. Another important property of protein is that it is slow to digest. This can be helpful for weight loss because it helps you feel full for longer after a meal, and because it keeps energy levels more stable.
In addition, being slow to digest means that protein helps keep blood sugar levels more stable. It reduces blood sugar spikes after a meal, and helps prevent sharp drops in blood sugar after that.
Healthy protein foods tend to have other essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and/or vitamin D. Plant-based protein foods also contain fiber, and some protein foods have healthy monounsaturated or omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Where to find healthy protein foods
Most protein itself is similar in its health effects. What determines “healthy” protein is the food package that contains the protein. In general, healthy protein foods are high in protein and low in saturated fat. Also, although they are low in fat, the Lark program does not lean red meat to be “healthy protein” because of possible links to heart disease and cancer.
These are healthy sources of protein.
- Soybeans and soy-based products, such as tofu and meat alternatives.
- Lentils, split peas, and beans, such as kidney, garbanzo, black, pinto, and navy beans.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, trout, and sardines.
- Lean fish, such as tilapia, swai, cod, halibut, bass, and flounder.
- Canned tuna and salmon
- Shellfish, such as shrimp, oysters, and mussels.
- Eggs and egg whites.
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Fresh skinless chicken and turkey (white and dark meat are both good choices).
- Ground chicken and turkey.
- Peanuts and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and cashews.
- Seeds, such as flax, chia, pumpkin, and sunflower.
Tips for getting the most from healthy proteins
- Most meals should include a serving of a healthy protein food.
- Beans and lentils can be inexpensive alternatives to meat.
- Textured soy protein, TSP (or textured vegetable protein, TVP), is a healthy substitute for ground beef in meatballs, meatloaf, chili, and lasagna. Extra lean ground turkey is a close second.
- Trimming skin from chicken before cooking it can turn it into a healthy protein.
- Nuts and seeds are high in fat and calories, so the serving size is small.
- Baking or grilling chicken, shrimp, and fish keeps them lean, while breading and frying them turns them into high-carb, high-fat foods.
Ideas for using healthy proteins
- Fish stew with any baked fish, such as tilapia, cod, or swai, with a squeeze of lemon, then added to a stew of onions, bell peppers, carrots, garlic, tomato paste, tomatoes, low-sodium broth or bouillon, paprika, cumin, and lime, served with wild or brown rice.
- Couscous dinner made with onion and garlic browned in olive oil, plus tomato paste, zucchini, carrots, turnips, cooked or drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, water or low-sodium broth, cumin, ginger, coriander, cayenne, allspice, cinnamon, and harissa, all cooked into a stew and served over whole-grain couscous. Optional: chicken.
- Miso salmon bowl with salmon marinated with mushrooms, low-sodium soy sauce, sesame or olive oil, and chili paste, and then baked and added to miso broth with cooked buckwheat or zucchini noodles, bok choy or cabbage, and diced green onions.
- FIsh baked with olive oil, tomatoes, lemon, garlic, basil, and (optional) feta cheese.
- Chicken chili with onions, chicken, chicken broth, spinach, oregano, garbanzo or white beans, corn, cilantro, lime, chili powder, paprika, and black pepper.
- Tuna salad with spinach or romaine lettuce or spring greens tossed with cherry or chopped tomatoes, walnuts or almond, and mushrooms, drizzled with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and topped with drained tuna.
- Lentil soup with lentils, low-sodium broth, tomatoes, bay leaf, cumin, lemon, bulgur.
- Bean soup with pinto, navy, kidney, and/or garbanzo beans, carrots, onions, celery, low-sodium broth, brown rice or barley.
- Fish tacos with baked cod or tilapia in chunks and with a drizzle of lime, coleslaw made with shredded cabbage (or coleslaw mix or broccoli slaw mix) mixed with yogurt, chopped parsley, dill, and chives, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon juice, and avocado and salsa.
- Egg whites (or one egg plus egg whites) or tofu scrambled with mushrooms, spinach, and low-fat Swiss cheese, served in a whole-grain small tortilla or with fruit.