Go lean with protein

Not all foods found in the protein group are created equal; Learn about protein foods to choose more often.

You do not need to be a body builder to feel the benefits of eating protein. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the typical American needs between five and 6.5 ounces of protein daily, depending on gender, age and activity level. Proteins are the building blocks of so many important parts of our bodies; blood, skin, cartilage, bone and muscles. In addition to protein, many foods found in the protein food group also provide us with iron, which is used to carry oxygen in the blood, and also B vitamins which are important to forming red blood cells, building tissues and assisting with the function of the nervous system. However, not all foods found in the protein group are created equal.

Michigan State University Extension indicates that there are many choices in the protein food group and it is important to know what a portion is and which choices are the healthiest for you. For many of us, processed meat is readily available and inexpensive. However, processed meats often come with a hidden cost. Saturated fat, sodium and other less desirable additives make many processed meats foods to eat in moderation. Examples of processed meats include: Hot dogs, lunch meat (bologna and salami), sausage, bacon and fried meats.

Lean protein sources such as seafood, poultry, legumes and beans are protein foods we need to choose more often. The cooking method you use is also important; limit frying fish and poultry as this can add fat and sodium. Instead try grilling, broiling or baking. Keep portion sizes in check as well. The new MyPlate icon is a helpful reminder and guide that shows how to keep all of your foods in balance. The protein section is the smallest section on a balanced plate. If you are not sure what a portion is, three ounces of protein is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.

For a balanced diet, choose foods from all food groups and don’t forget your protein!

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