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Publication #FCS8918

Healthy Protein Choices for MyPlate1

Claudia Peñuela2

The Protein Foods Group includes foods from both plant and animal sources. This group includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds. While the major nutrient provided is protein, other benefits include iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, and the B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6). Animal-based foods, though, contain more saturated fats and cholesterol. Everyone needs to be aware of the amount of fat eaten each day. The MyPlate message is "Go lean with protein."

Recommended Protein Foods Intakes

MyPlate recommends eating between 2 and 7 ounces of protein foods every day depending on age, sex, and physical activity.

Go to to create your personal plan.

Table 1 shows the recommended ounces of protein foods per day for a person who gets less than 30 minutes each day of moderate physical activity. Those who are more physically active are able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.

Table 1. 

Age Years



























What is "one ounce" from the Protein Foods Group?

  • 1 ounce of meat, fish, or poultry

  • 1 egg

  • ¼ cup cooked dry beans or peas

  • ¼ cup of tofu (about 2 ounces)

  • ½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)

  • ½ ounce of sunflower seeds

  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

Common portions and ounce equivalents:

  • 1 small chicken breast = 3 ounces

  • 1 small, lean hamburger = 2 to 3 ounces

  • 1 small steak = 3½ to 4 ounces

  • 1 can tuna, drained = 3 to 4 ounces

Nutrients and Key Points about Their Health Benefits

Protein is a major nutrient that acts as a building block for bones, muscles, cartilages, skin, and blood.

B vitamins release energy in the body, help the nervous system work properly, form red blood cells, and build tissues.

Vitamin E acts an antioxidant protecting vitamin A and essential fatty acids from being oxidized by cells.

Iron carries oxygen in the blood. Low iron or iron deficiency may cause anemia. Anemia causes fatigue, weakness, and poor concentration. To absorb iron, consume foods with vitamin C.

Magnesium builds strong bones and helps the muscles release energy.

Zinc is needed for different reactions in the body and helps the immune system to work correctly.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3) and monounsaturated fatty acids help the body absorb and transport certain vitamins.

  • Caution! Some animal sources of meat such as liver, giblets, and egg yolks are high in cholesterol. Fatty cuts of beef, pork, lamb, ground beef, deli meats, and poultry such as duck are high in saturated fats.

  • Saturated fats and cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels in the blood. This cholesterol is harmful and is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol; it increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

Tips for Healthy Eating with Protein-rich Foods

  • Choose lean cuts of beef such as ground round and ground chuck that are lower in cholesterol.

  • Remove the skin on poultry to lower cholesterol.

  • Eat nuts, seeds, beans, and peas that do not have cholesterol.

  • Eat sunflower seeds, almond, and hazelnuts as good sources of vitamin E.

  • Choose salmon, trout, and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Limit eating egg yolks, liver, and other organs that are high in cholesterol. Omit one yolk and add an extra egg white when cooking with eggs.

  • Avoid products such as ham, frankfurters, sausage, and deli meats that have added sodium.

Tips for Healthy Cooking with Protein-rich Foods

  • Take off all visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.

  • Use low-fat cooking methods: you can broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, and fish.

  • Drain off any fat during or after cooking.

  • Limit the breading on meat, poultry, and fish. Breading increases the fat and calories because it absorbs the fat.

  • Avoid adding fat when preparing beans and peas.

  • Avoid prepared foods with high-fat sauces and gravies.

  • And remember: use of higher fat choices and solid fat when cooking counts as part of your caloric intake!


United States Department of Agriculture, MyPlate Basics [Online].

United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans [Online].



This document is FCS8918, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 5, 2010. Reviewed with minor revisions August 2011. Visit the EDIS website at


Claudia Peñuela, EFNEP assistant in nutrition; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.