Wednesday, August 15, 2012
One of the biggest mistakes I made for years was undereating protein. The food pyramid guidelines seem designed to give the bare minimum of protein and fat for life support. The new 'food plate' isn't much better. The result for me was lean mass loss and fat gain. The exact opposite of what I wanted.
When I started eating an appropriate protein amount, I gained lean mass and lost fat without changing my routines. I still got the same amount of exercise, but my body composition reorganized.
The amount of protein that I eat is 80-100g per day, or a 4oz serving 3-4x per day. That is about 16oz/1lb per day, 112oz/7lbs per week. My husband should be eating almost double that, but he only eats dinner with me. So we eat about 150oz/9lbs protein per week at home.
Oh my. How do we afford that?
- Eggs. Once maligned for its cholesterol, 30 years of clinical testing has never shown a correlative link between dietary cholesterol and blood serum cholesterol. Eggs are the most primal and basic protein source we can eat. And cheap. Even organic eggs at $4 per dozen is way more economical than the cheapest cut of beef. $4 per dozen might look expensive compared to the supercheap $0.99 cartons, but it's only $0.33 per egg. A large egg has 4.8g protein. Make a 2 egg omelet, and you're still under $1 for breakfast. Forget the transfat McDonalds dollar menu - pick up a carton of real eggs. And eat the whole egg. All the nutrition is in the yolk. Phosphorus, selenium, chromium, choline, folate, B12, Vitamin A/D/E/K - all the good stuff - are contained in the yolk. Egg whites are only good for angel food cakes, in my opinion. If you're skipping the yolk, you're skipping the nutrition. I eat 2-3 eggs per day.
- Chicken. The saying, "A chicken in every pot", was a desire from King Henry IV of France who wanted no one so poor they couldn't have a Sunday chicken. It seems odd to us, but a roast chicken was once a luxury and a sign of prosperity. The 17th century French would consider us all Marie Antoinettes with our giant KFC chicken leg buckets! For best value and health, buy fresh from the grocery. Chicken legs and thighs are usually the cheapest cuts. Chicken breasts are generally more pricey, but still a bargain compared to most cuts of beef. Due to the popularity of Buffalo Wings, chicken wings have become almost as expensive as chicken breasts! The cheapest chicken is to buy the whole chicken and cut it up yourself. I watched vids on YouTube to learn how to cut a whole chicken. I did a horrible job the first time. The meat was torn, it didn't look anything like the butcher cut, and I had way too much meat left on the bone. I got a lot better with practice. Now I can cut up a chicken in less than 5 minutes. Most of the time it still doesn't look nearly as neat and perfect as the butcher cut, but it's more than adequate for my purposes. There's a little meat left on the bone, and that gets thrown in a crockpot with an onion to make homemade chicken broth. I use the broth all week for soups and flavor additions to recipes. A whole $6 chicken lasts me all week. My depression era grandma would be proud.
- Skirt/flank/london broil/chuck roast steaks. These are generally the most economical cuts of beef in my area, averaging about $2-4/lb. Flank steaks have become slightly more expensive due to a certain popular Food Network chef making them in vogue, but they are still a regular in my shopping list. They are tough cuts of meat, so cooking method and cutting across the grain are crucial to make them edible. I prepare them with tex-mex and asian marinades or slow cook at low temp in the oven. My favorite recipes with these cheap cuts are carne asada, fajitas, Thai style steak with lime dressing, Korean kalbi, pot roast, braised beef, and chilis.
- Pork. These days, pork is less fatty and safer to eat than in our grandparents' generation. It's the cheapest cut of meat next to chicken. A pork tenderloin roast generally costs me about $4/lb. A whole loin is too much for 2 people, so I generally cut it into dinner sized portions and freeze the rest. A pork roast is about $2.50/lb. I'll slow cook it in a crockpot with a little water, then shred it for pulled pork with a homemade bbq sauce. I've learned a few tricks about bbq from my time in the South!
- Fish. I am very, very picky about my fish. I couldn't eat salmon until I moved to the PacNW where I bought the freshest of the fresh. Salmon that has a strong fishy taste is bad salmon. Fresh salmon tastes 'creamy' and 'buttery'. I am a bit of a salmon snob, having been spoiled by living in the PacNW for 6 years. My favorite is Copper River Sockeye salmon. Atlantic salmon is more common on the east coast. When buying salmon, only buy wild caught. Farmed salmon does NOT contain high omega-3s. The omega-3 comes from the salmon eating krill. Farmed salmon eat a corn feed. Fresh sockeye salmon is bright red. Farmed salmon is a pale pink (that is enhanced by additives in their feed). There's a big difference. During salmon run season, I buy fresh wild caught sockeye salmon from Costco for $9/lb. It's more pricey than the other cuts I've talked about so far, but it's worth it. Salmon run season is very short, and I take advantage of it while I can. The rest of the year, I buy the frozen wild caught Sockeye salmon from Costco. I buy wild caught tuna and cod frozen, as well. Not only is it more economical, but there also isn't a rush to use it.
- Canned fish. Not my favorite, but I do keep a supply of canned tuna on hand. The only type of canned salmon I can eat is also from Costco. Again, I'm really sensitive to the 'fishy' taste. The canned salmon that doesn't give me a bad 'spit it out' reaction is the wild caught brand in a black can. I don't buy a lot of this, but I do keep it handy. I generally make salmon burgers out of it for a quick lunch. Tuna salads are a staple, and the cat also enjoys an open can!
- Whatever is on sale. I generally buy more expensive cuts like ribeye or top sirloin only when it's on sale.
Protein we don't eat every day:
- Steak. Ribeye at my local grocery store costs about $12/lb. We go to Charleston, SC every other week to shop at Costco where we can buy it for $8/lb. We bring it home, vacuum seal it, and store in the freezer. We have a 'steakhouse' meal at home one night per week.
- Beans. Beans have some protein, but they are more carbohydrate. I generally only use a small quantity in my chili recipes or soups. My husband also has a rather unpleasant reaction to them, and we don't feel it's worth it.
Because we keep a constant supply of protein in our freezer, it's hard for me to estimate what our weekly protein budget is. The only meats that I tend to buy fresh weekly are whole chickens and eggs. The red meat and fish is rotated out of the freezer and bought fresh on an irregular basis.
All of our meals are accompanied with fresh vegetables. Last night we had Thai steak with lettuce leaves for wraps, snap peas, seaweed salad, and a little basmati rice. The flank steak was the most expensive ingredient at $4/lb. I cooked a 10oz portion, which costs roughly ~$2.50. This was divided into a 4oz portion for me, 5oz for DH (about 1oz is lost after cooking). I estimate the cost of our meal at $2.50 per person. We each had a glass of wine, increasing the cost of the meal to $4.50 per person. $9 total with wine for two people, $5 without wine. I don't know of any Thai restaurant that can beat that price.
Eating enough protein to be healthy hasn't been difficult or expensive for me at all. In many cases, I can buy organic and wild caught proteins very economically as well.