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Exploring the Food Groups

The Meat Group
The next tier of the Food Guide Pyramid, level three from the bottom, is the meat group. This group includes a variety of foods, including beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, game, eggs, dry beans (legumes, lentils, and peas), soy foods, nuts, and peanut butter. The meat group supplies large amounts of protein as well as other essential nutrients. Some of the choices in the meat group, such as nuts, dry beans, and soy foods, are plant foods. These foods are grouped with meat because they are excellent sources of protein.

You need fewer servings from the meat group because it is higher in fat. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests consuming two to three servings or about 5 to 7 ounces from the meat group each day.

One serving equals any of the following:

  • 2 to 3 ounces cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; the following count as an ounce of meat:
  • 1 egg
  • cup cooked legumes (lentils, peas, or dried beans)
  • cup egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/3; cup nuts
  • 4 ounces tofu
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 2 to 3 ounces canned tuna or salmon, packed in water
Fact: Although eggs can be a great source of protein, they are also high in dietary cholesterol. You should limit your use of whole eggs or egg yolks to no more than four per week. The only part of the egg that contains cholesterol is the egg yolk. In place of whole eggs, try using egg substitutes or egg whites, both of which are cholesterol-free.

The meat group supplies varying amounts of nutrients, including zinc, iron, and B vitamins (thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Beef, poultry, and fish are some of the best sources of iron. These foods contain "heme" iron, which is better absorbed in the body, as opposed to the non-heme iron in plant foods. The meat group is also a source of dietary fat. The fat found in animal foods is saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet can lead to increased blood cholesterol as well as heart disease.

Making Healthy Choices
The meat group is an important food group because of the nutrients it provides. However, because the majority of foods in the meat group contain saturated fat and cholesterol, it is important to make lean and low-fat choices.

    Follow these tips to help make low-fat choices from the meat group:
  • Choose skinless, white meat poultry.
  • Instead of ground beef, try lean ground turkey instead. Ground turkey breast can be up to 99 percent fat-free.
  • Buy meat that is well trimmed, with no more than an eighth of an inch fat trim. (Trim refers to the fat layer surrounding the cut of meat.)
  • When buying ground meats, look for packages that have the greatest percent lean-to-fat ratio.
  • When buying beef, be aware of grades and inspection of meat.
  • Choose beans, peas, lentils, and soy foods often, and try to make them your main meal several times per week.
  • Limit your intake of high-fat processed meats, including bacon, sausage, bologna, salami, kielbasa, bratwurst, and other higher-fat meats.
  • Limit your intake of liver and other organ meats, which tend to be very high in cholesterol.
  • Use egg yolks and whole eggs in moderation.
  • Watch your portion sizes. Three ounces of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
What do the different grades of meat mean? Food grades of meat are determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are based on fat content, appearance, texture, and the age of the animal. The Select grade has the least marbled fat, followed by Choice cuts, then Prime. Prime cuts are the juiciest and most favorable, but contain the most fat. With proper cooking techniques, Select and Choice cuts can be just as tender and juicy as Prime cuts. Preparing Leaner Meats
Preparing your meats with less fat can be simple and does not have to compromise taste. With a few simple tips, you can make a big difference in reducing total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in your meals. Try the following techniques:
  • Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking.
  • Cook meats using the following low-fat cooking methods most of the time: broil, grill, roast, braise, stew, steam, poach, stir-fry, or microwave.
  • After browning ground meats, drain fat and then rinse meat in hot water a few times to rinse off excess fat. You can also pat the meat with a paper towel after draining to remove excess fat.
  • Brown meat in a nonstick skillet with little to no fat. Use a vegetable oil spray to prevent sticking.
  • When grilling, broiling, or roasting meat and poultry, use a rack so that the fat will drip through.
  • Use marinades for meat that have little to no fat such as light teriyaki sauce, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, tomato juice, defatted broth, or low-fat yogurt. Add fresh herbs and other spices such as garlic powder to marinades for more flavor.
  • Oven bake fish and/or chicken instead of frying.
Keeping Meat Safe
The way you prepare, serve, and store meat can all add to its safety. Taking the proper care can ensure that your meat will be high in quality and safe to eat. Take the following steps with your meats:
  • Rinse poultry in cold water before preparing.
  • Keep juices from meats and poultry from contacting other foods.
  • Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator.
  • Never reuse marinade once it has been in contact with raw meat.
  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or microwave.
  • Use different utensils and cutting boards for raw meats than for cooked meats, as well as other foods.
  • Cook ground meat and poultry thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches around 160 degrees. The meat should no longer be pink inside, and juices should run clear.
  • Cook other cuts of beef to at least 145 degrees for safety.
  • Heat leftovers to 165 degrees, or until steaming hot.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly.


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Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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