Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and/or red meat with the fat removed

Often called the ‘protein group’, this food group provides us with many important nutrients, such as proteinironzincB vitamins. The plant foods in this group (legumes, nuts and seeds) also provide us with fibre, whilst nuts, seeds and oily fish are rich in heart-healthy fats. Eating a variety of these foods will provide all the nutrients they offer.

How much do we need to eat?

An adult should aim for around 2.5 servings each day. However, this is will depend on your life stage, gender and activity levels. Find out more in Appendix 3 of the Eating and Activity Guidelines.

The guidelines have also recommended that, broadly speaking, Kiwis should:

  • Eat more: legumes, fish and other seafood, nuts and seeds
  • Eat less: red meat (and processed meat)

Serving size examples

  • 1 cup of cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils
  • A small handful (30 g) of nuts or seeds
  • 1 medium fillet of cooked fish (100 g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 chicken drumstick or ½ chicken breast
  • 1 slice of cooked meat (65 g) (e.g., roast lamb, chicken, beef, or pork)
  • ½ cup of mince or casserole

Legumes include lentils, split peas, chickpeas, and cooked dried beans (e.g., red kidney beans or baked beans)

  • Try to include legumes in some of your meals. For example, add lentils or a can of kidney beans to mince, casserole or soup to reduce the amount of meat you need.
  • For more meal ideas using legumes, see the Heart Foundation’s Full O’ Beans cookbook.

Nuts and seeds

  • The Heart Foundation recommends that eating 3-4 small handfuls of nuts and seeds each week is helpful to reduce the risk of heart disease. Further heart health benefits are likely with higher intakes.
  • Choose unsalted, raw, or dry-roasted nuts and seeds.

Fish and other seafood

  • Fish and seafood are good sources of iodine.
  • Oily fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel) and some seafood such as mussels are good sources of omega 3, which may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Mussels are a great source of iron and B12.
  • Fresh fish is ideal, however, tinned fish in spring water is still a good, affordable option.


  • Eggs provide useful nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet for adults in general.
  • Learn more by reading our Eggs webpage.

Poultry (e.g., chicken)

  • Chicken is a good source of iron and zinc.
  • Cut off visible fat from the meat (a lot of the fat is stored in the skin).

Red meat with the fat removed

  • Red meat is an excellent source of iron and zinc, however, eating too much red meat is associated with bowel cancer.
  • The Ministry of Health recommends that you should eat less than 500 g of cooked red meat a week (equivalent to 700–750 g when raw). The Heart Foundation suggests a further reduction to 350 g of cooked red meat a week (Heart Foundation, 2022).
  • Choose lean red meats and trim visible skin and fat.
  • Avoid/reduce processed meat (sausages, ham, bacon). These foods are there is strong evidence that eating processed meat is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer and heart disease (Heart Foundation, 2022).
  • If you choose not to eat red meat, chicken or fish, see the booklet Eating for Healthy Vegetarians on the HealthEd website.

Tips for eating from this food group

  • Legumes offer cheap and filling meal ideas – try canned varieties for convenience and speed. Browse Heart Foundation’s Full O’Beans Cookbook for some inspiration.
  • Add legumes to salads (e.g., chickpeas), soups, stews, and casseroles.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry, trim the visible fat off meat, and remove the skin from poultry.
  • Choose low-fat cooking options, such as grilling or roasting, rather than frying.
  • The iron in meat, poultry, and fish is more easily absorbed by your body than from plant foods (legumes, nuts and seeds). Pair your plant food with foods rich in vitamin C at the same time to increase absorption.

More info

Health Navigator Protein


Last reviewed: 01/08/2022

Last modified: August 16, 2023