MyPlate: Protein Foods Group
This publication describes ways to incorporate proper amounts of healthy low-fat protein into the diet.
Donnia Behrends, Extension Educator
Jessye Goertz, Extension Educator
Lisa Franzen-Castle, Extension Nutrition Specialist
- What Foods Are in the Protein Foods Group?
- How Much Food from the Protein Foods Group is Needed Daily?
- What Counts as an “Ounce Equivalent” in the Protein Foods Group?
- Why Include Protein?
- Vary Protein Choices
- Making Healthy Choices
- Keep It Lean While Cooking
- What to Look for on the Food Label
- Keep It Safe
All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods.html). Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits. Vegetarian options include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds.
The amount of food from the Protein Foods Group you need to eat depends on age, gender, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods (Table I).
|Table I. Daily recommended consumption of protein foods.|
|Children||2-3 years old||2 ounce equivalents|
|4-8 years old||4 ounce equivalents|
|Girls||9-13 years old||5 ounce equivalents|
|14-18 years old||5 ounce equivalents|
|Boys||9-13 years old||5 ounce equivalents|
|14-18 years old||6½ ounce equivalents|
|Women||19-30 years old||5½ ounce equivalents|
|31-50 years old||5 ounce equivalents|
|51+ years old||5 ounce equivalents|
|Men||19-30 years old||6½ ounce equivalents|
|31-50 years old||6 ounce equivalents|
|51+ years old||5½ ounce equivalents|
|*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.|
In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the Protein Foods Group (Table II).
|Table II. Examples of “ounce equivalent” in protein foods.|
|Amount that counts as 1 ounce equivalent in the Protein Foods Group||Common portions and ounce equivalents|
|Meats||1 ounce cooked lean beef 1 ounce cooked lean pork or ham||
|Poultry||1 ounce cooked chicken or turkey, without skin
1 sandwich slice of turkey (4½ by 2½ by ⅛”)
|Seafood||1 ounce cooked fish or shell fish||
|Nuts and seeds||½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios,
7 walnut halves)
½ ounce of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower or squash seeds, hulled, roasted)
1 Tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
|Beans and peas||¼ cup of cooked beans (such as black, kidney,
pinto, or white beans)
¼ cup of cooked peas (such as chickpeas, cowpeas, lentils, or split peas)
¼ cup of baked beans, refried beans
¼ cup (about 2 ounces) of tofu
1 oz. tempeh, cooked
¼ cup roasted soybeans, 1 falafel patty (2¼”, 4 oz)
2 Tablespoons hummus
Meat, poultry, seafood, dry beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds provide several nutrients needed to build and maintain the body. These nutrients include protein, B vitamins, iron, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.
- Proteins build and maintain body tissues like bones, muscles, skin, and blood.
- B vitamins help the body use energy and build tissues. They play an important role in the nervous system and in forming red blood cells.
- Iron carries oxygen in the blood.
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from breaking down.
- Magnesium is important for bone health and in releasing energy from muscles.
- Zinc helps our immune system.
- EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids found in varying amounts in seafood. Eating 8 ounces of seafood per week may help reduce the risk for heart disease.
Most Americans get enough foods from the protein foods group but could make leaner and healthier choices.
Some food choices in this group are high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL or low-density lipoprotein) in the blood. High LDL cholesterol increases the risk for coronary heart disease. These include fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; regular (75 percent to 85 percent lean) ground beef; regular sausages, hot dogs, and bacon; some luncheon meats (regular bologna and salami); and some poultry such as duck. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.
- Some foods from this group are high in cholesterol. Diets high in cholesterol can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources. These include egg
yolks (egg whites are cholesterol-free) and organ meats such as liver and giblets. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.
- Seafood: Eating seafood twice a week (6 to 8 ounces total) may reduce the risk of death from coronary artery disease. Eat fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as herring, salmon, and trout,
and prepare fish without adding any fat.
- Beans and Peas: Choose cooked dry beans or peas as a main dish or add them to other dishes in your meals. Some ideas for adding cooked dry beans and peas include chili with pinto or kidney beans; split
pea, lentil, minestrone or white bean soup; baked beans and black bean burritos.
- Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds also are good choices as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes. Sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts are rich sources of vitamin E, and walnuts and ground flax are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Because nuts and seeds are high in calories, eat them in small portions. Use them to replace other protein foods, like some meat or poultry, rather than adding them to what you already eat. In addition, choose unsalted nuts and seeds to help reduce sodium intakes.
The nutrient content varies among the individual foods in the protein foods group. Keep your choices from the protein foods group lean by choosing:
- Lean beef cuts including round steak and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
- Lean pork cuts including pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
- Extra lean ground beef with a label of 90 percent (or higher) lean.
- Skinless chicken or turkey (buy it skinless or remove skin).
- Lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats.
When cooking, keep protein choices lean. Try some of the following tips to trim the fat.
- Trim away all the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
- Grill, broil, roast, or boil meat instead of frying it.
- Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.
- Skip or limit breading on meats, poultry, and fish — it only adds fat and calories.
- Prepare dry beans and peas without added fats.
- Choose and prepare foods without high-fat sauces or gravies.
Check the Nutrition Facts Label for the saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium content of packaged foods.
- Take care when storing and preparing meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs at home to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Keep the work area clean and make sure to maintain proper temperatures when storing
and cooking meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
- Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after working with each of these foods.
- Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so their juices do not drop onto other foods.
- Cook raw meat, poultry, and eggs to a safe internal temperature (above 140°F) and keep them cool (below 40°F) or frozen (under 0°F) when storing. Do not leave these foods at room temperature for more
than two hours.
- Avoid eating raw or partially cooked eggs, meat, poultry, or foods containing raw eggs.
- Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Instead, place them in the refrigerator, put them in airtight containers under running cold water or thaw them on a plate in the microwave and use immediately.
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Linda Boeckner and Karen Schledewitz, authors of the original edition of this publication.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (7th ed.). http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Groups – Protein. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods.html
This publication has been peer reviewed.
Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Publications website for more publications.
Index: Foods & Nutrition
1994-2006, Revised June 2012