How to Eat Healthy: The Food Groups

The United States Department of Agriculture created the Food Groups Pyramid in 2005 to help Americans make healthy food choices. Each of six food groups is represented by a band in the pyramid. The following guidelines are based on a 2,000-calorie diet as described by MyPyramid. More information can be found at:

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Grains Group: Eat 6 oz. a day

Foods from the grains group provide your body with energy. Grains are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Remember to eat at least 3 oz. of whole-grain products a day. Try foods like oatmeal and brown rice. Check the ingredients list. The words “whole grain” or “whole wheat” should be listed first. Limit the amount of processed grains you eat. This includes foods like white rice and white bread.

Vegetable Group: Eat 2 ½ cups a day

Vegetables are a good source of fiber. They also provide your body with potassium and vitamins A and C, as well as other nutrients. Most vegetables are low in fat and calories.

Remember that dark green and orange vegetables are good for you. Eat more spinach, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Also, eat more dry beans, peas, and lentils. Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables all count toward your vegetable intake. Keep the amount of starchy vegetables you eat to 3 cups a week. This includes white potatoes, corn, and green peas.

Fruits Group: Eat 2 cups a day

Like vegetables, fruits are a good source of fiber. They also provide nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C. Most fruits are low in fat, sodium, and calories.

Remember to eat a variety of fruits such as apples, bananas, melons, and berries. Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit all count toward your fruit intake. Drink no more than 1 glass of 100% fruit juice a day.

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Milk Group: Get 3 cups a day

Milk products contain protein and other nutrients. They also provide your body with calcium, which is needed to build strong bones and maintain healthy teeth.

Remember to choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese. Eat fewer milk products with added sugars (including flavored milk and yogurts). If you don’t or can’t consume milk, choose lactose-free products. Also, add other foods and drinks rich in calcium to your diet.

Meat & Beans Group: Eat 5-6 oz. a day

Foods in the meat and beans group are your body’s main source of protein, which is needed to maintain muscle. Meat and beans are also rich in B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

Remember to mix up your proteins. Fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds are all part of this food group. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. This includes foods like lean beef and skinless chicken. Bake, broil, or grill meat and fish instead of frying. Try replacing meat at some meals with soy products, beans, or nuts. Avoid fatty red meats and high-fat processed meats. This includes foods like prime rib and salami. Also, eat fewer organ meats like liver and fewer egg yolks. These foods are high in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Oils Group: Just a Little

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. This includes vegetable oils you cook with and oil in salad dressing. Oils are a major source of vitamin E.

Remember to choose olive, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, and other liquid vegetable oils when cooking. A tablespoon of oil contains many calories. Go easy on salad dressing and other added fats. Limit butter, lard, palm and coconut oils, and the fat on meats. These are high in saturated fats and trans-fats. They may affect your cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease.

Mixed Dishes

Some dishes may belong to more than one food group. For example, a sandwich may contain ingredients from every food group, depending on what you put in it. When preparing mixed dishes, choose each ingredient based on its nutritional value. This will help ensure a balanced meal.

Alternative Diets

Alternative diets based on vegetarian or specific ethnic foods can also provide you with healthy food choices. Just be sure the foods you eat contain the right amount of nutrients to meet your calorie needs. Build meals around foods that are high in nutrients and low in fats, sugars, and sodium.

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