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The Power of Protein

Foods in the protein group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body including protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium

Arkadelphia, Ark. – 

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.  Foods in the protein group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body including protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium.  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).  B vitamins found in this food group serve a variety of functions in the body.  They help the body release energy, play a vital role in the function of the nervous system, aid in the formation of red blood cells, and help build tissues.  Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood.  Magnesium is used in building bones and in releasing energy from muscles.  Zinc is necessary for biochemical reactions and helps the immune system function properly.  EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids found in varying amounts in seafood.  Eating 8 ounces per week of seafood my help reduce the risk for heart disease. Seafood varieties that are commonly consumed in the United States that are higher in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in mercury).  The health benefits from consuming seafood outweigh the health risk associated with mercury, a heavy metal found in seafood in varying levels. Adults need to eat five 1 ounce servings/equivalents of protein per day.  In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalents from the Protein Foods Group. 

When selecting protein foods, choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry.  The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.  The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.  Choose extra lean ground beef.  The label should say at least “90% lean”.  Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.  Boneless skinless chicken breast and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.  Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches.  Choosing foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol may have health implications.  Diets that are high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood.  The bad cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.  High LDL cholesterol, in turn, increases the risk of coronary heart disease.  Some food choices in this group 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, and some poultry such as duck.  To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.  Eating peanuts and certain tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, almonds, and pistachios) may reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed as part of diet that is nutritionally adequate and within calorie needs.  Because nuts and seeds are high in calories, eat them in small portions and use them to replace other protein foods, like some meat and poultry, rather than adding them to what you already eat.  In addition, choose unsalted nuts and seeds to help reduce sodium intakes. 

When preparing meats, trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.  Broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.  Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.  Skip or limit breading on meat, poultry or fish.  Breading adds calories and will cause the food to soak up more fat during frying.  Prepare beans and peas without added fats.  Choose and prepare foods without high fat sauces or gravies.  If you find consuming enough seafood is difficult, try this delicious Salmon burger recipe with Sweet potato oven fries.  Combining the two offers 1 ½ cups of vegetables, 2 oz of grains, and 3 oz of protein in an under 500 calorie meal loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fiber.  Who knew nutrition could be so tasty?

Sweet Potato Oven Fries       

4 large sweet potatoes(yams)

1 ½ tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp lemon pepper seasoning blend

Egg whites from 2 eggs, whisked

2 tbsp plain low-fat yogurt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Cooking spray


            Salmon Burgers

1  14.75-ounce can pink or red salmon

2 green onions, chopped

½ cup red bell pepper

8 crackers, unsalted tops (saltine-like), crushed

2 tsp lemon juice

2 whole-wheat buns

Bibb lettuce, 8 leaves

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Place oven rack in center, heat oven to 425 degrees.  Wash and scrub sweet potatoes, slice in wedges, length-wise.  In a large bowl, toss potato wedges with canola oil and seasoning.  Spread on cookie sheet.  Roast in oven, turning occasionally, until tender and golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.  While sweet potatoes are roasting, prepare salmon burgers.  Drain salmon, place in a medium mixing bowl and flake.  Fold in green onions and red pepper, crushed crackers, lemon juice, egg whites and yogurt.  Shape into 4 patties.  Coat large nonstick skillet lightly with cooking spray; heat.  Cook salmon burgers until golden brown, turn, and continue cooking until other side is golden brown.  Serve burgers with sliced tomatoes and lettuce on whole –wheat buns.  Serves 4.


By JoAnn Vann
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: JoAnn Vann
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
640 S. 6th Street, Suite B, Arkadelphia AR 71923
(870) 246-2281

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