The purple section of USDA’s MyPlate illustrates the protein food group. Poultry and meat choices should be low fat or lean. Vary your choices with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. Include at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week.
All foods made from seafood, beans and peas, meat, eggs, nuts, soy based products, seeds, and poultry are determined to be part of the protein food group.
Some well-known protein choices include:
Note: Processed meats such as luncheon or deli meat, frankfurters, sausage, and ham have added sodium. Seafood can be rich in omega-3 fatty acids including pacific oysters, anchovies, sardines and Atlanta and Pacific mackerel. Choosing unsalted seeds and nuts help to keep sodium intake low.
Beans and peas are great sources of plant protein. Beans and peas are mature legumes that include foods such as chick and split peas, black-eyed peas, black and lima beans. They are high in nutrients like zinc and iron. Beans and peas are very unique as they are also members of the vegetable group, since they are excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate and potassium.
Foods in the protein group provide vital nutrients for optimal health and maintenance of the body.
However, when choosing from protein foods, try to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Diets that are high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood which increases the risk for coronary heart disease. Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources. Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb are high in saturated fat. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat. Eat more of the healthy fish, nuts, and seeds instead. They contain monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for your health.
Diets high in saturated fat tend to raise bad cholesterol levels. The LDL or bad cholesterol increases risks for coronary heart disease. Some foods in the protein food group that are high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of lamb, pork and beef, sausages, bacon and hot dogs; some luncheon meats including salami and bologna and even poultry such as duck.
Diets that are high in cholesterol can also raise LDL in the blood. Cholesterol is found only in animal products. There are goods in the protein group that are high in cholesterol including egg yolks, liver and giblets. In order to keep cholesterol at a healthy level, it is important to limit the amount of these foods that are a part of a persons’ daily diet
Seafood contains a number of nutrients, particularly EPA, DHA and omega 3 fatty acids. Eating 8 ounces of seafood on a weekly basis from a variety of seafood options helps to prevent heart disease. For smaller children, less than 8 ounces is recommended.
Seeds and nuts may help to reduce the risk of heart disease as well, when part of a healthy and balanced diet. Nuts and seeds tend to be high in calories so it is important to eat them in small portions.
The recommended food amount from the protein group is dependent upon level of physical activity, gender and age. As a benchmark, an adult woman needs about 5-5.5 ounces equivalents of proteins every day, and a man needs about 5.5-6.5 ounces.
According to the USDA, most Americans eat enough food from the protein group; however, they need to make better choices by selecting leaner cuts of meat and increasing the varieties from the protein foods with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
Foods in the protein group are typically measured in ounces. Generally, an ounce of meat, fish, or poultry, ¼ cup cooked beans; ½ ounce of nuts, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 egg, ½ ounce of seeds can be regarded as a one ounce equivalent from the protein food group. In other words:
Many consider beans and peas as well as other forms of legumes, great vegetarian option, as they are an alternative to meat consumption. Other vegetarian options include nuts, seeds, and soy products.
If you are a vegetarian you should focus on protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12 and make sure to get the recommended daily amounts of these nutrients. Here are examples of nutrition rich food sources for vegetarians:
The USDA and Choose My Plate provide a number of tips on how to effectively incorporate protein into a healthy, balanced diet. Here are a few:
USDA’s My Plate