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Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and/or red meat

This food group includes legumes (e.g. cooked dried beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry (e.g., chicken) and/or red meat with the fat removed.

This food group provides us with many important nutrients, such as proteinironzincB vitamins and fats (which contains fat-soluble vitamins and omega fatty acids). Together, they are often referred to as the ‘protein group’.

How much do we need to eat?

As these foods provide such a wide range of nutrients, including foods from this group every day is an essential part of a healthy eating pattern. Choosing a variety over a week will provide all the nutrients they offer.

An adult should aim for two servings each day. Depending on your age you may need more or less servings per day. Read more about what you need on Healthy Eating by Lifestages.

Legumes include lentils, split peas, chickpeas and cooked dried beans (eg, red kidney beans, baked beans). Legumes, nuts and seeds are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

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

Nuts and seeds are also high in healthy (unsaturated) fats.

  • 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 intakes higher than this (Heart Foundation Nuts & Seeds Position Statement).
  • Choose unsalted, raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds.

Oily fish (eg, 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.

  • Fresh or frozen fish or fish canned in spring water are all good choices.

Red meat, chicken and fish all contain iron in a form that your body can easily absorb.

  • The Ministry of Health recommends that if choosing red meat, 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).
  • If you choose not to eat red meat, chicken or fish, see the booklet Eating for Healthy Vegetarians on the HealthEd website.
  • Choose lean meats and poultry and trim visible skin and fat.
  • Minimize processed meat: there is strong evidence that eating processed meat is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer and heart disease (Heart Foundation).

Serving sizes

  • 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 drumsticks or ½ chicken breast
  • 1 slice of cooked meat (65 g) (eg, roast lamb, chicken, beef or pork)
  • ½ cup of mince or casserole

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), and soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry, trimming the visible fat off meat, and removing skin from poultry.
  • Choose low-fat cooking options, such as grilling, roasting or microwaving rather than frying.
  • The iron in meat, poultry and fish is more easily absorbed by your body than from plant products (cooked dried beans, peas and lentils). Eat foods rich in vitamin C at the same time to increase absorption.

More info

The four food groups | Ministry of Health

Last modified: April 3, 2022