Warning: Use of undefined constant name - assumed 'name' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /webroot/f/o/foodpyra/foodpyramid.com/www/wp-content/themes/FoodPyramid/functions.php on line 16
Protein Food Group - What are Protein Foods?
Home » MyPlate » Protein Food Group

Protein Food Group

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.

Protein Food Group

What counts as part of the Protein Food Group?

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:

  • Lean cuts of veal, pork, lamb, and beef
  • Lean ground meats such as beef, pork and lab
  • Game meats such as venison, rabbit and bison
  • Poultry including chicken, duck, goose, turkey as well as ground turkey and chicken
  • Eggs from ducks and chickens
  • Seafood including tuna, trout, swordfish, snapper salmon, Pollock, mackerel, herring, halibut, cod and catfish
  • Shellfish such as shrimp, squid, clams, crab, crayfish, mussels, and lobster
  • Beans and peas including split peas, falafel, lentils, navy beans, pinto and lima beans
  • Nuts and seeds include walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, cashew, hazelnuts and more

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 – Part of the Protein Food Group

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.

Protein Foods – Important Nutrients

Foods in the protein group provide vital nutrients for optimal health and maintenance of the body.

  • Seeds, nuts, eggs, dry beans and peas, fish, poultry, and meat offer a number of nutrients that include magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin E, niacin, thiamin, B6, riboflavin, and of course protein.
  • Protein acts as the body’s building block for muscles, bones, cartilage, skin and the blood. They are also building blocks for important functional levels of hormones, enzymes, and vitamins. Proteins also provide calories.
  • B vitamins help with the nervous system and helps build tissues; iron carries oxygen in the blood; magnesium helps builds bones and energy release from muscles.

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.

Protein Foods – Health Implications

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, Nuts, and Seeds – Healthy Protein Foods

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.

How much food from the Protein Food Group is needed?

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.

What counts as “1 Ounce” equivalent in the Protein Group?

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:

  • 1 ounce = 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish or
  • 1 ounce group = ¼ cup cooked dry beans or
  • 1 ounce = 1 egg or
  • 1 ounce = 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or
  • 1 ounce =  ½ ounce of nuts or seeds

Protein Foods: Vegetarian Choices

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:

  • Protein sources: beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products, milk products, eggs
  • Iron sources: iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, dried apricots, prunes, raisins
  • Calcium sources: calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, soy products, collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens, milk products
  • Zinc sources: zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, milk products
  • Vitamin B12 sources: milk products, eggs, and foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12  (breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers, nutritional yeast)

10 Tips – Healthy Protein Foods

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:

  • Choose lean meat products including roast beef, turkey or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches versus deli and regular luncheon meats such as salami or bologna.
  • The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
  • There are lean pork options such as center loin, pork loin, and tenderloin. Choose these options over other potentially higher fat options.
  • The leanest poultry choices are boneless and skinless chicken breast and turkey. Purchase boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets, as they are the leanest protein choices.
  • Remove all visible fat from meat and poultry before cooking.
  • Avoid frying your meat, poultry or fish. It’s better if you broil, grill, roast, poach or boil it instead.
  • Drain off any fat that appears during cooking. Drain fat that seems to be cooking when preparing meats.
  • Limit or skip the breading on meat, fish and poultry. When you add breading, you add calories. In addition, breading will cause the food product to absorb more fat particularly during frying.
  • Avoid fat sauces and use herbs, spices, olive oil and fresh vegetables and nonfat marinades.
  • Replace meat and poultry with fish, nuts and seeds. Fish, nuts and seeds are healthier alternatives since they contain healthy oils.



USDA’s My Plate