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Food Groups: Protein

The protein food group is super important. It helps you feel full longer because it slows down how fast your stomach empties, it helps with muscle (and other tissue) repair and rebuilding, and is important for a multitude of body functions.

This food group consists of foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, high-protein soy foods (such as tofu), and eggs. There are also some high-protein foods that belong to more than one food group, such as Greek yogurt (high in protein and also a dairy product), nuts and seeds (high in protein and fat), peanut butter and other nut butters (high in protein and fat), beans (high in protein and carbohydrate), and cottage cheese (high in protein, fat, sodium, and also a dairy product).

Healthful options in the protein group are nuts, seeds, nut butters, soy products, beans, fish, eggs, and low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt. There are lots of health benefits to meat and poultry, though the fat that comes with meat and poultry is considered harmful to your heart health. Choose a lean meat (round and loin cuts are generally lean), trim the visible fat off of your meat before you cook it, and take the skin off of your chicken and turkey before cooking. This will save your heart from having to deal with more of the bad fats and save you some calories.

Most Americans eat enough protein by the end of the day, however many people do not eat enough protein at all meals. Specifically, breakfast is where we tend to get too little protein. I was one of those people who would eat a bowl of carbohydrate-heavy (and low protein) cereal, then go off to classes or work. I would feel tired during the morning, to the point where I would fall asleep at my desk. I also found it hard to concentrate, thinking was fuzzy, and I would be hungry well before lunch. Now that I make sure I have protein in the morning, I am much more energetic and concentrating is easier. Plus, I am not hungry until lunch time.

You may be wondering what you can eat to make sure you get enough protein at breakfast. My favorite choices are eggs (at least two), Greek yogurt, or high-protein cereal. If you always seem to skip eating protein at a particular meal, try eating something with at least 15 grams of protein at that meal. Take stock of differences in how you feel throughout the day. You might find that this simple change makes a big difference.

The USDA website has wonderful information on the proteins food group. You can find it by typing www.choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods into your browser.


Lynn Grant R.D., L.D., CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She works at Capital Region Medical Center and provides diabetes education and outpatient nutrition counseling by appointment. She also writes a weekly blog, which you can view at nutritionnotions.wordpress.com.