The protein-rich foods in this group include lean meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. There is now an emphasis to eat less of the meat and poultry foods, which are a staple of many NZ diets, and instead include more fish and vegetarian alternatives.
|You need to eat at least 2 servings of legumes, nuts and seeds a day or at least 1 serving of fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry or red meat a day.|
Ways to include protein every day
To help get your portions of lean meats, fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds right try to:
- fill ½ your plate with vegetables or salad, ¼ with your carbohydrate / grain foods, and ¼ your protein foods from this group
- eat lean meats by cutting off the fat you can see and taking the skin off chicken before you eat it. Some meats like mince and sausages can be high in fat so try not to eat these too often. When you do try to reduce the fat e.g. brown the mince then drain the fat, and grill sausages so fat drips away
- add soaked dried, or canned lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans to dishes like spaghetti bolognaise, casseroles, stews and winter soups to bulk them out and reduce the amount of meat you need.
- add lentils, chickpeas and beans to salads so they are more filling.
- use canned chickpeas to make hummus which can be used as a healthy dip or can be added to sandwiches, salads or eaten as a snack with crackers or chopped up vegetables.
|Advice||Serving size examples||Nutrients provided|
What are proteins?
Proteins are made up of different combinations of 20 amino acids. These combinations result in 1000's of different protein molecules, which are responsible for a variety of bodily functions.
All amino acids must be present in the body in adequate amounts for normal growth and development. Those that cannot be made by the body, or not made quickly enough, are called essential (of which there are 9), and those that the body can make are called nonessential.
Why are proteins important?
Enzymes, haemoglobin, some hormones and antibodies are just a few examples of the substances in our bodies that are made of protein molecules. Proteins are also important for the building and repair of tissues and for many other functions.
Not enough protein in the diet leads to muscle wasting (including damage to the heart) and damage to the liver, pancreas and gut. The immune system and developing brain can be affected too.
For a healthy person, eating too much protein isn’t that much of a problem, although, it may mean you are likely to eat less of other foods that you should be eating to stay healthy, like fruits and vegetables.
For those with kidney or liver disease, excessive protein is not advised. If you are eating a high protein diet for weight loss, you are less likely to eat vegetables and more likely to eat foods that contain fat. This could have an effect on your kidney function (leading to kidney stones) and your bones (where calcium may be excreted in high amounts), and may increase your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines Ministry of Health, NZ