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All About the Proteins

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All About the Proteins

Make smart food selections to get the right intake

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. Beans and peas are also part of the vegetable group. (For more information on beans and peas, see Beans and Peas Are Unique Foods.)

Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Young children need less, depending on their age and calorie needs. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the protein foods group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.

The amount of food from the protein foods group you need to eat depends on age, sex and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods.

In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish; 1/4 cup cooked beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as a 1-ounce equivalent from the protein foods group.

Here are tips to select proteins:

Choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry. If higher fat choices are made, such as regular ground beef (75 percent to 80 percent lean) or chicken with skin, the fat counts against your maximum limit for empty calories (calories from solid fats or added sugars).
If solid fat is added in cooking, such as frying chicken in shortening or frying eggs in butter or stick margarine, this also counts against your maximum limit for empty calories.
Select some seafood that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring, Pacific oysters, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, frankfurters and luncheon or deli meats, have added sodium. Check the Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake. Fresh chicken, turkey and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __”, which mean that a sodium-containing solution has been added to the product.
Choose unsalted nuts and seeds to keep sodium intake low.

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