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Eat protein foods

Protein foods, including plant-based protein foods, are an important part of healthy eating. Include foods such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, lean meats and poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, lower fat milk and lower fat dairy products.

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Protein foods are good for you

You can eat a variety of protein foods as part of a healthy eating pattern.

Protein foods have important nutrients such as:

  • protein
  • vitamins
  • minerals

Choose protein foods that come from plants more often. Plant-based protein foods can provide more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods. This can be beneficial for your heart health.

You don’t need to eat large amounts of protein foods to meet your nutritional needs. Try to eat protein foods such as:

  • eggs
  • lean meats and poultry
    • lean cuts of beef, pork and wild game
    • turkey
    • chicken
  • nuts and seeds
    • peanuts
    • almonds
    • cashews
    • nut butters
    • sunflower seeds
  • fish and shellfish
    • trout
    • shrimp
    • salmon
    • scallops
    • sardines
    • mackerel
  • lower fat dairy products
    • milk
    • yogurt
    • lower sodium cheeses
  • beans, peas and lentils
    • brown, green or red or other lentils
    • peas such as chickpeas and split peas
    • dried beans such as black beans and kidney beans
  • fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans and other soy products

Choosing and preparing healthy protein foods

There are many different types of protein foods to choose from. Make healthier choices.

Beans, peas and lentils


  • dried beans, peas and lentils to soak and cook at home
  • low sodium canned beans, peas and lentils, or rinse and drain them to reduce the amount of sodium

Nuts and seeds


  • dry roasted nuts and seeds without added:
    • sugars
    • fat (oils)
    • sodium (salt)
  • peanut butter or other nut butters that list peanuts or nuts as the only ingredient. Choose ones with little to no added:
    • sodium
    • sugars
    • saturated fat

Fish and shellfish


  • canned fish with little to no added sodium
  • fresh or frozen fish and shellfish that has not been:
    • breaded
    • battered
    • deep-fried

Lean meats


  • skinless poultry
  • lean cuts of meat such as round and loin
  • fresh or frozen meat and poultry without rich sauces
  • meat prepared with little or no added sodium or saturated fat

Milk and dairy products


  • lower fat cheeses
  • unsweetened lower fat yogurt
  • unsweetened lower fat milk

Soy products and fortified soy beverages


  • low sodium soy products
  • unsweetened fortified soy beverages

Preparing protein foods

Try healthier ways to prepare your food by:

  • draining off extra fat after cooking
  • trimming the visible fat from meats
  • removing skin from poultry before cooking
  • limiting the amount of sauces, butter or gravy

Try cooking methods that use little or no added saturated fat. These include methods such as:

  • baking
  • grilling
  • roasting
  • poaching

Enhance the flavour by:

  • seasoning with herbs, lemon or salsas
  • using small amounts of oils with healthy fats such as olive and canola

Snack ideas

Protein foods make healthy and delicious snacks. Try these quick and tasty options:

  • nuts and seeds
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • oven roasted chickpeas
  • hummus with fresh veggies
  • peanut butter on celery sticks
  • lower fat yogurt with fresh fruit

How to eat more protein foods that come from plants

Here are some easy ways to eat more protein foods that come from plants:

  • Add soft tofu to a blended soup to make it thicker and creamier.
  • Try a bean salad, lentil and rice pilaf or a bowl of vegetarian chili for lunch.
  • Make your own trail mix by combining your favourite whole grain cereal with a handful of nuts and seeds.
  • Spread hummus on the inside of a whole grain pita and fill with vegetables such as romaine lettuce and shredded carrots.

Each week, plan a couple of meatless meals. As your main course, try using:

  • beans in a burrito
  • tofu in a vegetable stir-fry
  • chickpeas and beans in tacos
  • lentils in a soup, stew or casserole

Make a healthy choice

What you eat on a regular basis matters for your health.

  • Choose foods that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat.
  • Compare the nutrition facts table on foods to choose products that are lower in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Further reading

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