Healthy Diet & Nutrition

What Should You Know about Proteins?

Editor’s note: Protein foods are an essential part of a healthy diet. Here, experts from ChooseMyPlate, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offer a basic guide to this important food group as well as tips on selecting the best kinds of protein-rich foods.

What foods are in the protein foods group?

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. These foods provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. However, choosing foods from this group that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol may have health implications.

Here are some tips to help you select protein foods that are both healthy and tasty:

Go lean:

The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.

The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.

Choose lean ground beef. To be considered “lean,” the product has to be at least 92% lean/8% fat.

Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.

Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.

Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches instead of luncheon/deli meats with more fat, such as regular bologna or salami.

Vary your protein choices:

Choose seafood at least twice a week as the main protein food. Look for seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring. Some ideas are:

Salmon steak or filet

Salmon loaf

Grilled or baked trout

Vegetarians (and those interested in variety) can choose choose beans, peas, or soy products as a main dish or part of a meal:

Chili with kidney or pinto beans

Stir-fried tofu

Split pea, lentil, minestrone, or white bean soups

Baked beans

Black bean enchiladas

Garbanzo or kidney beans on a chef’s salad

Rice and beans

Veggie burgers

Hummus (chickpeas spread) on pita bread

Choose unsalted nuts as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes. Use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to these items:

Use pine nuts in pesto sauce for pasta.

Add slivered almonds to steamed vegetables.

Add toasted peanuts or cashews to a vegetable stir fry instead of meat.

Sprinkle a few nuts on top of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Add walnuts or pecans to a green salad instead of cheese or meat.

Information courtesy of ChooseMyPlate. For more information on nutrition issues, visit



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