The protein food group is made up of various foods that are high in protein – meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, soy products, nuts, seeds and legumes. Legumes are also a part of the vegetable food group while nuts and seeds are part of the fats and oils food group.
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Fish and Seafood
Certain fish can be high in mercury, so it’s worth keeping that in mind when choosing which to eat and how often you eat them. Fish which is low in mercury and high in omega-3s is ideal to include in your diet several times a week.
In general, the bigger the fish, or the higher up in the food chain, the higher the mercury content. Larger fish eat smaller fish, consuming small amounts of mercury in the process, which accumulates over time.
Mercury and Omega-3 Levels in Fish
|Oysters, wild||Very low||Low|
|Salmon, wild||Very low||High|
|Sardines, canned||Very low||Medium|
|Scallops, wild||Very low||Low|
|Shrimp, wild||Very low||Low|
|Sole, wild||Very low||Low|
|Squid, wild||Very low||Medium|
|Tuna, canned||Low||Very low|
Meat and Poultry
Meat, especially red meat, is an excellent source of iron. Pairing it with food rich with vitamin C will increase the bioavailability (absorption) of the iron.
Lean meat is generally healthier for its lower amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol and is preferable over high-fat meat. However, all lean meat still contains saturated fat and cholesterol. When factoring in the other animal products included in a balanced diet, for young children, it’s good to limit meat consumption to a few times a week, with other sources of protein in the “meatless” meals.
Nuts and Seeds
Apart from protein, nuts and seeds contain a high amount of “good” fats, vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, and copper but are relatively high in terms of calorie content. For this reason, although considered healthy, you’re better limiting daily consumption to 1 fist for adults and 2 teaspoons for children (considering overall fat and energy intake from other sources as well).
Nuts and seeds also provide several health benefits since their consumption has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and overall benefits to the cardiovascular system.
On the other hand, several types of nuts with high selenium content (especially Brazil nuts) can be harmful if eaten in excess. Children under the age of 1 should avoid them completely, children 1-3 should limit intake to 1 per day and 4-8 to 2. Older children and adults should limit Brazil nuts intake to 3-4 per day.
Legumes and Soy Products
Apart from being rich in protein, legumes and soy products contain a significant amount of dietary fiber as well as phytonutrients that can have beneficial effects on the body.
You can maximize the nutritional content by buying dried legumes or soy products and soaking them for 12-24 hours prior to preparation. If not possible, canned or pre-prepared options are a good alternative.
Daily requirements change rapidly between birth and 2 years of age, so we recommend you check out the age-specific meal plans for those ages.
|2 – 3||2 oz equivalents||2 oz equivalents|
|4 – 8||4 oz equivalents||4 oz equivalents|
|9 – 13||5 oz equivalents||5 oz equivalents|
|14 – 18||6.5 oz equivalents||5 oz equivalents|
|19 – 30||6.5 oz equivalents||5.5 oz equivalents|
|31 – 50||6 oz equivalents||5 oz equivalents|
|51+||5.5 oz equivalents||5 oz equivalents|
Check this out for a reference guide for how much of a specific protein is meant by “5 oz equivalents”.