Vary your protein routine.
What foods are in the Protein Foods Group?
All foods made from seafood; meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products are part of the Protein Foods Group. Beans, peas, and lentils are also part of the Vegetable Group. For more information on beans, peas, and lentils see Beans, Peas, and Lentils are Unique Foods.
Select a wide variety of protein foods to get more of the nutrients your body needs and for health benefits. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat, like 93% lean ground beef, pork loin, and skinless chicken breasts. Choose seafood options that are higher in beneficial fatty acids (omega-3s) and lower in methylmercury, such as salmon, anchovies, and trout. The advice to consume lean or low-fat meat and poultry and a variety of seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans, peas, and lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
More About the Protein Foods Group
Note: Click on the top row to expand the table. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone to see the full table.
*These are general recommendations by age. Find the right amount for you by getting your MyPlate Plan.
|Daily Recommendation* in Ounce-Equivalents (oz-equiv)|
|Toddlers||12 to 23 months||2 oz-equiv|
2 to 5 oz-equiv
3 to 5½ oz-equiv
4 to 6 oz-equiv
5 to 6½ oz-equiv
5 to 6½ oz-equiv
5½ to 7 oz-equiv
5 to 6½ oz-equiv
5 to 6 oz-equiv
5 to 6 oz-equiv
6½ to 7 oz-equiv
6 to 7 oz-equiv
5½ to 6½ oz-equiv
This chart lists specific amounts that count as 1 ounce-equivalent (oz-equiv) in the Protein Foods Group towards your daily recommended intake:
|Amount that counts as 1 oz-equiv in the Protein Foods Group|
1 ounce cooked lean beef, goat, ham, lamb, or pork
1 ounce cooked lean ground beef or pork
1 slice of luncheon or deli meats (beef, chicken, ham, pork, turkey)
1 ounce cooked game meats (bear, bison, deer, elk, moose, opossum, rabbit, venison)
1 ounce cooked organ meats
1 ounce cooked (without skin) chicken, ostrich, or turkey
2 ounces cooked Cornish hen, duck, goose, pheasant, or quail
1 sandwich slice of turkey or chicken breast (4½" x 2½" x ⅛")
1 ounce cooked finfish (black sea bass, catfish, cod, flounder, freshwater trout, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, light tuna, mackerel, mullet, perch, pollock, salmon, sea bass, snapper, sole, tilapia, whiting)
1 ounce cooked shellfish (clams, crab, crayfish, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, shrimp, squid (calamari)
1 ounce canned fish (anchovies, freshwater trout, herring, light tuna, salmon, sardines)
1 ½ egg whites (or 3 tablespoons liquid egg white product)
|Nuts and seeds||
½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
½ ounce of seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, or squash seeds) hulled, roasted
1 tablespoon of almond, cashew, peanut, or sunflower butter, or sesame paste (tahini)
|Beans, peas, and lentils||
¼ cup of cooked beans, peas or lentils (such as bayo, black, brown, fava, garbanzo, kidney, lima, mung, navy, pigeon, pink, pinto, or soy, or white beans, or black-eyed peas (cow peas) or split peas, and red, brown, and green lentils)
¼ cup of baked beans or refried beans
¼ cup (about 2 ounces) of tofu
1 oz. tempeh, cooked
¼ cup soybeans, cooked
1 falafel patty (2 ¼", 4 oz)
6 tablespoons hummus
Why is it important to choose a variety of choices from the Protein Foods Group?
Foods in the Protein Foods Group including meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of your body. Many Americans meet the protein recommendations for meat, poultry, and eggs, but do not meet the recommendations for seafood or nuts, seeds, and soy products. Meeting the recommendations for these Protein Foods subgroups can help increase intake of important nutrients, including unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and vitamin D and help to limit intake of sodium and saturated fats coming from processed meat and poultry.
Meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, and lentils, eggs, and nuts, seeds, and soy products supply many nutrients. These include protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Some food choices in the Protein Foods Group are high in saturated fat. These include fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; regular (75% to 85% lean) ground beef; regular sausages, hot dogs, and bacon; some luncheon meats such as regular bologna and salami; and some poultry such as duck. To help keep saturated fat intake below 10% of daily calories, limit the amount of these foods you eat.
- Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. They are also building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Proteins are one of three nutrients that provide calories (the others are fat and carbohydrates).
- Nutrients provided by various protein foods can differ. Varying your protein food choices can provide your body with a range of nutrients designed to keep your body functioning well. B vitamins help build tissue and aid in forming red blood cells. Iron can prevent anemia. Magnesium helps build bones and supports muscle function. Zinc can support your immune systems.
- EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids found in varying amounts in seafood. Eating 8 ounces per week of seafood may help reduce the risk for heart disease.
Vegetarian Choices in the Protein Foods Group
Vegetarians get enough protein from this group as long as the variety and amounts of foods selected are adequate. Protein sources from the Protein Foods Group for vegetarians include eggs (for ovo-vegetarians), beans, peas, and lentils, nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters), and soy products (tofu, tempeh). For more information on beans, peas, and lentils, see Beans, Peas, and Lentils are Unique Foods.