How clean is your protein?

Find out, then put our latest pillar into practice: Eat Clean, Lean Protein with Each Feeding Opportunity.

The Equinox Nutrition Philosophyis comprised of 12 fundamental nutritional pillars, all of which support the health of your cells, and thus increase your body’s overall energy capabilities while decreasing acidity and inflammation. The result: A younger, healthier (and we bet, happier) you with a metabolic system that hums. We'll walk you through one pillar monthly and provide two recipes to help you put it into practice. Here, the seventh:

Now that we’ve established the importance of plant foods in our diet, let’s take a moment to focus on animal proteins. We’re talking about lean beef, poultry, pork, and more.

How do we love protein? Let us count the ways. It’s the most satiating nutrient, so it keeps you full longer, steering you away from unhealthy snack attacks and cravings. There’s an increased thermic effect from eating protein, so you’ll burn more calories to digest it than you would if you ate carbs or fat. This can ratchet up your metabolism and decrease the likelihood that you’ll store fat. And it’s essential for healthy muscle growth.

“When you eat protein it increases IGF-1, an anabolic hormone that promotes muscle growth. It also pumps up nitrogen status, which when combined with exercise, increases anabolic efficiency and accelerates the growth process,” says registered dietician Maria Pagano. And to support one of our earlier pillars, getting your protein in whole food form, rather than from supplements means you get a natural supply of auxillary nutrients — creatine, branch amino acids, and CLA — that enhance growth and performance. The end result: Your training response improves. Which really means that you get fitter faster and it shows in the gym and the mirror.

Want to reap some cardiovascular rewards too? “Increase protein in your diet while decreasing carbs and you can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations and increase HDL (good) cholesterol concentrations,” adds Pagano, aTier 4 coach. By getting enough protein, you’re literally building a better body—inside and out.

The key is to eat clean, lean protein. Cleaner naturally means leaner. Commit that to memory because the leaner aspect ends up applying to your body too — and for more reasons than you think. Factory-farmed animals are confined and shot up with both antibiotics that can impact your gut flora and hormones that can affect your own. They’re also fed things that aren’t part of their natural diet — soy, grain, corn, fillers, even cake — all of which fatten them fast.

“When cows eat these types of carbs they get inflammation in their bodies, it produces arachidonic acid as a byproduct,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board. “Then when we eat their meat, we absorb what they’ve eaten and that inflammatory arachidonic acid too.” Farmed fish — those raised commercially in tanks and enclosures — present a similar problem. They absorb PCBs and pesticides from their food and antibiotics are used to keep them “healthy” ‘til they’re on your plate. Not quite the farm-to-table idea any of us have in mind.

So go for organic, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. They’re better for you and more humane. “Labels that say grass-fed and pasture-raised mean the animal fed on grass, which leads to a leaner cut of meat and the fat it does contain is higher in beneficial omega 3,” says Pagano. In addition to beef, chicken, and eggs, vary your menu with bison, lamb, venison, turkey, and pork and seek out low-mercury seafood like Alaskan king salmon, Dungeness crab, Greenland turbot, sea scallops, clams, and black cod. Paired, of course, with endless veggies.

These protein-rich Tasting Table recipes will help you eat clean and lean:

Chicken, Basil and Bok Choy Stir-Fry

Grilled Flank Steak with Roasted Pepper Relish

Practice what we're preaching for the next few weeks, then check back on August first for rule number eight. If you're just tuning into our 12-month eating overhaul, read ournutrition philosophy.