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Lean Protein Group

What foods are included?

Foods with a high protein content are in the lean protein group. Among them are:

  • Meats: beef, pork, veal, lamb, and ham
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, and goose
  • Fish: catfish, salmon, shrimp, and tuna
  • Eggs: chicken and duck
  • Cheese: cheddar, ricotta, and American
  • Nuts: almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Soybean products: tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein

Click to see a more complete list of protein foods.

How much should I eat?

proteins cover 1/4 of the plateThe Healthy Diabetes Plate recommends eating at least two servings from the lean protein group each day—one serving at
lunch and another at dinner. (A lean protein serving is optional at breakfast.) Your lean protein serving should cover a quarter of your plate, no more than ½ inch high.

For meats, poultry, fish, and tofu, one serving is 3 ounces.  To help you visualize, a serving of cooked meat, poultry, and tofu is about this size:

a computer mouse

a deck of cards

an open palm (without fingers)

A 3-ounce serving of cooked fish is the size of a checkbook:


Actual servings of meat, poultry, fish, and tofu look like this:

3 ounces of steak

3 ounces of
canned tuna

3 ounces of
chicken breast

3 ounces of tofu

For eggs, cheese, and nuts, one serving is:

  • 2 eggs or 1/2 cup of egg substitute
  • 2 ounces of cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 ounce of nuts

To visualize:

2 ounces of cheese

1 ounce of nuts
(a single layer covering
the palm)

2 tablespoons of peanut

Here are some examples of single servings of eggs, cheese, and nuts:

two eggs

1 ounce of nuts

2 ounces of cheese

which foods should I choose?

Choose lean cuts of meat—those labeled “round” or “loin,” such as “top round” or "pork loin”—and remove the skin from poultry before eating it.

Or, substitute fish and nuts as your protein:

  • Choose fish—especially those high in "omega-3" fats—at least twice a week. Salmon, trout, and herring are richest in omega-3s.
  • Select walnuts for their essential fatty acid content and hazelnuts and almonds for their high levels of vitamin E.

What's in it for my health?

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and soybean products offer:

  • protein
  • B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6)
  • vitamin E
  • minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium)

Eating fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fats decreases the risk of developing heart disease.

Meats, poultry, eggs, and cheese products contain saturated fat. High intake of these foods can raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Cooking tip #1!
Keep meats lean by trimming the fat.

Cooking tip #2!
Bake, broil, boil, roast, or poach—but don't fry—meats and fish.

Shopping tips!
Watch this video for some tips when shopping for protein.





  • "My meat portions are a lot smaller, but with all the other food on the plate, that's okay"
    - A Healthy Diabetes Plate class participant