Everyone is told to eat healthily and to have something from each food group every day, which is fine if you understand what they are and what exactly they include.
We have decided to look at the question ‘what are the basic food groups?’ so you can start to make some informed choices about what you eat for the benefit of your health.
Having fruit in your diet introduces important nutrients as well as flavor and color. A variety of fruit contains vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health and well-being.
Most fruit is low in calories, sodium, and fat while being high in fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin C. The fruit group includes all fruit including fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. Fruits can be eaten whole, chopped up, pureed, or cooked.
This group also includes 100% fruit juices although at least half of the recommended daily amount should be whole fruit and not just juices. This is because fiber is one of the most important benefits of eating fruits. Fiber reduces cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
Raw citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C which is important for the repair and growth of body tissue. It also helps your body absorb iron more easily.
Vegetables are another important source of fiber and nutrients. Whole vegetables and 100% vegetable juice are part of the vegetable food group. Like fruit, vegetables can be eaten fresh, frozen, cooked, canned, or dried. You can eat them whole, chopped up, or pureed.
There are five subgroups of vegetables each of which is based on their nutrients. They are red and orange vegetables, dark green vegetables, beans, peas and lentils, starchy and other vegetables.
As they are full of vitamins and minerals and low in fat and calories, vegetables are a very important part of our diet. They are an important source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate.
Potassium from vegetables helps us to maintain a healthy blood pressure while dietary fiber reduces the risk of heart disease. Vitamin A is essential for the health of our eyes and skin and helps to protect us from infection.
Foods that are made from wheat, oats, barley, rice, or other cereal grains are a grain product and part of this food group. Bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, and tortillas are all included in the grain group.
There are two subgroups of grains, whole grains, and refined grains. For a grain to be considered whole it needs to have the entire kernel including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Oatmeal, brown rice, and bulgur wheat are examples of whole grains.
Refined grains have gone through a milling process which removes the bran and the germ. This gives the grain a finer texture and extends its shelf life. However, the process also removes dietary fiber, B vitamins, and iron.
Refined grain products include white bread, white rice, corn grits, and white flour. Some nutrients can be added back to refined grains, but fiber is not added.
The protein food group includes foods such as meat, poultry and eggs, seafood, beans, peas and lentils, and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Beans, peas, and lentils are also part of the vegetable food group.
When eating meat and poultry it is advantageous to stick to lean and low-fat options such as skinless chicken breasts and 93% lean ground beef. Seafood should be high in omega-3 healthy fats and low in methylmercury such as trout, anchovies, and salmon.
Vegetarians can include nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, peas, and lentils. Protein foods provide the body with a lot of nutrients including the B vitamins niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and B6 as well as vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, and iron.
You should limit the amount of saturated fats that you consume through fatty cuts of meat, duck and sausages, bacon, and hot dogs.
Dairy products are an essential part of a healthy diet and provide many nutrients. These include calcium, vitamins A, D, and B12, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and choline.
Levels of vitamin D and calcium are linked with vitamin D being necessary for the proper absorption of calcium. This is important for its role in building and maintaining strong bones. Dairy products are the main source of calcium for the majority of people.
For those who are lactose intolerant, fortified soy is a good source of vitamin D.
Potassium is another very important mineral which helps with maintaining healthy blood pressure. Dairy milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium.
What Is The Purpose Of Food Groups?
Now that we know what food groups are and what is included in each it’s worth asking what the purpose of food groups is. Why is it necessary to lump certain foods together and call them a group, and how does it help us to make better choices about what we eat?
As nutrition became a science and the vitamins and minerals that make up our food became better understood, a simplified way to look at food was required. Instead of recommending that people eat 25 grams of fiber daily, it was simpler to recommend eating two cups of fruit.
When we eat the recommended amounts from each food group we can meet our daily nutritional needs.
How Much To Eat From Each Food Group
There are targets that are recommended for each food group and are measured in cups for fruit, vegetables, and dairy and in ounces for protein foods and grains.
The amount that you need to eat from each food group depends on your age, sex, weight, height, and level of physical activity. For women, it will also depend on whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
In general, people should eat:
- Fruit: 1 cup of fresh fruit, ½ cup dried fruit, or 1 cup of 100% fruit juice
- Vegetables: 1 cup raw/cooked vegetables, vegetable juice, or 2 cups raw salad green
- Grains: 1 slice bread, 1 cup cereal, ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal
- Protein Foods: 1 oz meat, fish, poultry, 1 egg, ½ oz nuts/seeds, ¼ cup cooked beans
- Dairy: 1 cup milk/yogurt/soy milk, 1 ½ oz natural cheese
Foods Not Included In The Food Groups
There are some foods that are not included in the five main food groups including oils and fats, sugars and calories from drinks.
Oils are an important source of nutrients but are also high in calories so intake should be limited. They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which provide energy and support the absorption of certain vitamins. Oil is also naturally a part of certain foods.
Limiting the amount of processed foods and those high in sugar is beneficial for your health. Beverages such as water, 100% fruit juices, and low fat drinks can be part of a good eating pattern. However, sugary drinks or creamy coffee, and alcohol should be limited.
We hope that this guide to the basic food groups has helped you clarify how to have a healthy diet and how much of each group you should be eating daily.
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