Traditionally, the foods from this food group are considered ‘protein rich’ and most people have no trouble eating enough protein each day. More importantly however, this food group also provides a wide variety of other nutrients such as: iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins, especially B12, and essential fatty acids.
Lean red meats are a particularly good source of iron, zinc and B12 and are easily absorbed. Iron is especially important during infancy and for adolescent girls, pregnant women, menstruating women and endurance athletes.
The iron and zinc in animal foods is more easily absorbed by the body than in plant foods such as nuts, seeds and legumes/beans. However, the vitamin C found in fruit and vegetables will help the absorption of iron from these non-animal foods.
Legumes provide many of the same nutrients as lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs and because of this they have been placed in this food group as well as the vegetable food group. They are essential in vegetarian and vegan eating patterns to get enough of the key nutrients found in this food group.
What’s in the lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans group?
Foods from this food group fall into 6 categories. Examples include:
- Lean meats – Beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo, lean (lower salt) sausages
- Poultry – Chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds
- Fish and seafood – Fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams
- Eggs – Chicken eggs, duck eggs
- Nuts and seeds – Almonds, pine nuts, walnut, macadamia, hazelnut, cashew, peanut, nut spreads, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts
- Legumes/beans – All beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.
How much should I eat from the lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans group?
The Guidelines recommend that you eat 1-3 serves of foods from this food group a day, depending on your age. During pregnancy, 3-4 serves a day are recommended.
Variety is the key. Over a week, a maximum of around 7 serves of lean red meat is recommended. However, keep in mind many adults eat larger amounts than the recommended serve sizes in a meal for meat, poultry or fish.
Eating larger than the recommended serves is not a problem if you keep your average weekly consumption in line with the total recommended serve sizes for a week. For example, instead of having 100g cooked fish twice per week you could have 200g once per week; or instead of having 65g of red meat every day, you could have twice as much every second day.
A serve of lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans is 500-600kJ which is:
- 65g cooked lean red meats such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo (about 90-100g raw)
- 80g cooked lean poultry such as chicken or turkey (100g raw)
- 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw) or one small can of fish
- 2 large (120g) eggs
- 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils, chick peas or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
- 170g tofu
- 30g nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter or tahini or other nut or seed paste (no added salt)*
*Only to be used occasionally as a substitute for other foods in the group (note: this amount for nuts and seeds gives approximately the same amount of energy as the other foods in this group but will provide less protein, iron or zinc).
To ensure adequate iron and zinc, about half the serves from this food group should be lean meat (for example beef, veal, lamb, pork, kangaroo). For those who do not eat animal foods, nuts, seeds, legumes (including tofu) can provide some iron and zinc, plus a good mix of plant-based protein. Non meat diets that include milk products, eggs, nuts/seeds and legumes can provide all the essential nutrients required for health. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and a supplement may be desirable if eating a non-animal diet.
Beware that smoked, salted and preserved foods from this food group, such as ham, bacon and salami, are usually higher in saturated fat, salt, and contain chemical properties that may be responsible for increased health risks. Because of this, most of these food choices are placed in the discretionary food group, and consumption of these foods should be limited.
Health benefits of the lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legume / beans group
Lean red meat provides a very good source of nutrients, however consumption of greater than 100/120g per day of red meat, which is more than double the recommended amount, is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and renal cancer. So remember to also eat other foods from this food group. Non meat options such as legumes provide many of the same nutrients as meats, poultry, fish and eggs. In fact, nuts and seeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease and are not associated with weight gain if total energy intake (kilojoules) is controlled.
There are also many benefits in eating fish. Consumption of fish more than once a week is associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia in older adults. Consuming fish at least twice a week has even further benefits with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and age-related macular degeneration in the eyes. Aim for about 2 serves of fish a week, preferable oily fish.