U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Protein Foods

Protein Foods

Vary your protein routine.

What foods are in the Protein Foods Group?


Protein Foods include all foods made from seafood; meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Beans, peas, and lentils are also part of the Vegetable Group. To learn more, visit the Beans, Peas, and Lentils page.

Eat a variety of protein foods to get more of the nutrients your body needs. 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 healthy fatty acids (called omega-3s) and lower in methylmercury, such as salmon, anchovies, and trout.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, the advice to eat meat, poultry, and seafood does not apply to you. Vegetarian protein options include beans, peas, and lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products.

Image
measuring cup
How much protein foods are needed daily?

Learn more

Image
beating heart
Why is it important to choose a variety of choices from the Protein Foods Group?

Learn more

Image
two nuts icon
Vegetarian choices in the Protein Foods Group

Learn more

How much food from the Protein Foods Group should I eat daily?

The amount of protein foods you need depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity. The amount can also depend on whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Most Americans eat enough from the Protein Foods Group but need to select leaner varieties of meat and poultry. They may also need to increase the variety of protein foods selected and choose meats less often.

Find the right amount for you by getting your MyPlate Plan. For general guidance by age, see the table below.

What counts as an ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?

The following examples count as 1 ounce-equivalent from the Protein Foods Group:

  • 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish 
  • ¼ cup cooked beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter 
  • ½ ounce of nuts or seeds

The table below lists amounts that count as 1 ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group towards your daily recommended amount.

More about the Protein Foods Group

The table below lists amounts that count as 1 ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group towards your daily recommended amount. Note: Click on the title row to expand the table. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn it 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
Children

2-4 yrs

5-8 yrs

2 to 5 oz-equiv

3 to 5½ oz-equiv

Girls

9-13 yrs

14-18 yrs

4 to 6  oz-equiv

5 to 6½ oz-equiv

Boys

9-13 yrs

14-18 yrs

5 to 6½ oz-equiv

5½ to 7 oz-equiv

Women

19-30 yrs

31-59 yrs

60+ yrs

5 to 6½ oz-equiv

5 to 6 oz-equiv

5 to 6 oz-equiv

Men

19-30 yrs

31-59 yrs

60+ yrs

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
Meats

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

Poultry

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")

Seafood

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)

Eggs

1 egg

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 select a variety of choices from the Protein Foods Group?

Protein foods provide nutrients important for maintaining your health and body.

Many Americans get the right amount of protein needed from meat, poultry, and eggs, but do not meet the recommendations for seafood or nuts, seeds, and soy products. Meeting this can help increase the amount of important nutrients your body needs, like unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and vitamin D. It also helps limit the amount of sodium and saturated fats from you get from processed meat and poultry.

Nutrients

Meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy products give the body many nutrients. These include protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. 

Nutrients

Some protein food choices 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
  • Some poultry such as duck

To help keep saturated fat intake below 10% of daily calories, limit the amount of these foods you eat.

Image
tofu soup and a bowl of mixed nuts

Health Benefits

  • 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.

Why is it important to eat a variety of seafood each week?

Seafood contains a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Eating about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, the amount recommended for many adults, as part of a healthy diet, can support health. Some types of fish, such as salmon and trout are also natural sources of vitamin D, a nutrient that many people don't get enough of. 

Seafood varieties commonly consumed in the United States that are higher in EPA and DHA and lower in a type of mercury, in the form of methylmercury, include salmon, anchovies, sardines, Pacific oysters, and trout. The amount of recommended seafood varies based on age, weight, and level of physical activity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provide joint advice to limit methylmercury exposure from seafood for women who might become pregnant or who are pregnant or lactating and young children. See Advice About Eating Fish for more information.

Image
image of beans, peas, and legumes

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.

Image
Shop Simple home screen on a phone

Shop Simple with MyPlate

Find savings in your area and discover new ways to prepare budget-friendly foods.

Learn more

Image
Alexa Speakers and Devices

MyPlate on Alexa

Get MyPlate nutrition tips on Amazon Alexa devices or the free Alexa app.

Learn more

Image
Start Simple app on phone and watch

Start Simple with MyPlate App

Build healthy eating habits one goal at a time! Download the Start Simple with MyPlate app today.

Learn more

Image
DGA logo

MyPlate.gov is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025