The protein group includes all meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds. Proteins build and maintain body tissues like bones, muscles, skin, and blood. It’s also a good source of energy, helps to fight infections and serves as building blocks for enzymes, hormones and vitamins. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in your body.
How Much Protein Is Needed Each Day?
The MyPlate Daily Checklist provides a personalized food plan; this includes the amounts you need from each food group. Most people, ages 9 and older, should eat 5 to 7 ounces of protein foods each day depending on your age, gender, and level of physical activity. What counts as an ounce of protein? 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, or seafood; 1 egg or 1/3 cup egg substitute; 2 tablespoons hummus; 1/4 cup cooked beans or peas; 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds; 1/4 cup soybeans or 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
Best Nutritional Value
Most Americans get enough foods from the protein foods group but could make leaner and healthier choices. Some types of protein foods are higher in fat or contain saturated fat which is bad for your heart if you eat them in large amounts. When you choose animal protein foods, choose those that are lower in fat like lean meat and low-fat or non-fat milk. Choose lean cuts of meat and consume in moderation. Consider alternating lean red and white meats.
Tips to Make Wise Choices from the Protein Foods Group
- Choose lean cuts of meat like round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 93 percent lean. Trim or drain fat and remove poultry skin.
- Eggs can be an inexpensive protein option. Place scrambled eggs in a whole wheat tortilla wrap for a quick meal or enjoy a salad with chopped, hard boiled eggs.
- Choose unsalted nuts or seeds as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes. Because nuts and seeds are high in calories, eat them in small portions.
- Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking methods – they don’t add extra fat.
- Make a healthy sandwich using turkey, roast beef, canned tuna or salmon, or peanut butter.
- Processed meats such as hams, sausages, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Be an informed consumer by reading the Nutrition Facts labels.
- Lower-fat versions of many processed meats are available. Choose products with less fat and saturated fat.
Try the following protein recipes. They are easy to serve anytime.
Meatloaf in a Mug
Courtesy of Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
- 1/4 pound lean ground beef (85% lean or leaner)
- 2 tablespoons oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 2 teaspoons nonfat milk
- 1 teaspoon dry onion mix
- Spray microwave-safe mug with cooking spray.
- Combine all ingredients and stir to mix.
- Pat beef mixture into mug. Make a small hold in center all the way to the bottom. Wash hands.
- Microwave on high (100%) for 3 minutes or until done.
- Cooking time will increase if more than one meat loaf is placed in the microwave at a time.
- Leftover dry onion mix can be used as a seasoning for baked or microwaved vegetables.
Nutrition Facts: Calories: 270, Fat: 12g, Carbohydrates: 14g, Dietary Fiber: 1g, Protein: 25g, Sodium: 360mg. Serves 1.
Garden Scrambled Eggs
Courtesy of Purdue Extension
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup fat-free or low-fat milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh or frozen vegetables of your choice (bell pepper, onion, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower and/or asparagus)
- In a medium bowl, use a fork to beat eggs until combined. Add milk, salt and pepper. Mix well. Set aside.
- In large nonstick skillet, melt butter or margarine over medium heat. Add desired vegetables. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 to 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Pour egg mixture over hot vegetables. Cook, without stirring, until eggs start to become firm on the bottom and around the edges.
- Using heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, gently lift and fold egg mixture, forming large soft pieces.
- Continue cooking and lifting egg mixture about 4 minutes more or until eggs are cooked through, but still slightly moist. Do not stir constantly. Remove from heat. Serve immediately.
- For a change of pace, stir in 1/2 cup salsa, 1/4 cup cottage cheese or 1/2 teaspoon dried herb leaves of your choice (basil, oregano, marjoram or thyme) into the egg mixture in Step 1.
Nutrition Facts: Calories: 190, Fat: 13g, Carbohydrates: 3g, Dietary Fiber: 0g, Protein: 14g, Sodium: 380mg. Serves 3 - serving size 3/4 cup.
For additional information about protein, check out Michigan State University Extension Service’s Protein: The Beginner’s Guide. Are you looking for quick, easy, and delicious protein recipes? See Oregon State University Extension Service’s Food Hero Healthy Recipes.
- United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. Tips to Help you Make Wise Choices from the Protein Foods Group.
- United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. Vary Your Protein Routine.
- United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. What Foods are in the Protein Foods Group?