Here's the lowdown on each group and basic nutrition tips to keep in mind:
The grains you are probably familiar with include wheat, oats, barley, rye, corn and rice. Anything made from these grains is also part of this food group. For example, whole wheat bread, corn tortillas, and brown rice pasta.
You've likely heard it's important to eat "whole grains." Well, when's the last time you ate wheat berries? Probably never heard of them, right? A wheat berry is the whole wheat grain.
However, most of us eat the byproducts of the wheat berry: wheat bread, wheat pasta, wheat crackers, etc., and think we are eating whole grain products. It's not necessarily true!
There is a difference between whole wheat bread and wheat bread!
A word about bread, crackers, pasta, etc:
Good choices from the grain food group:
Does every choice from this food group have to be whole, you must be thinking? Can you ever eat those yummy sourdough rolls from the bread basket?
Yes you can! Just make sure that at least half of the grain group products you eat in a day are whole.
Fruit Group and Vegetable Group
Although the fruit and vegetable food groups are categorized separately, I'll talk about them together here because the guidelines for choosing them are the same.
A very important word here: color.
OK, one more important word...variety.
You may have heard the basic nutrition principle that fruits and veggies provide you protective antioxidants that are important to good health.
Well, the antioxidants are the components that give the fruit and vegetable food groups their pretty colors. The richer the color, the more antioxidants.
In other words, a bright red tomato has more nutrition than an anemic looking one. Also, a blue blueberry has different antioxidants than a red strawberry.
So vary the rich-colored fruits and veggies you eat. In fact, think about eating a rainbow every day (or at least every week):
Note: It's true that fruits have more calories than vegetables. However, I've yet to meet the person who is overweight or unhealthy because they are eating too much fruit. That big bad banana really isn't "bad for you."
Note: If eating vegetables is hard for you, getting a juicer may be a good way to start. Yes, juicing fruits or vegetables provides more calories than eating them straight, but fruits and vegetables in juice form are better than no fruits and vegetables at all!
"The Dirty Dozen" list of 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to have high pesticide residue includes:
This food group contains milk, yogurt and cheese.
Scientific opinions vary as to whether dairy products are a necessary component of the diet. However, there is no debate as to the fact that calcium (found in dairy products) is necessary.
If you opt to shun dairy products, please be sure to choose alternative sources of calcium such as collards, kale, broccoli, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy or Chinese cabbage (from the vegetable food group)...
...or canned salmon and sardines with their soft bones, calcium fortified soymilk, almonds, Brazil nuts, and dried beans.
If you choose to include the dairy food group in your diet, opt for lowfat or fat free varieties. I personally recommend organic dairy products, especially in varieties containing fat, because hormones and antibiotics are stored in the fat.
Protein Food Group (a.k.a. Meat and Beans Group)
I like to differentiate between animal sources of protein and plant sources of protein.
The protein group is the food group with the widest range of calorie density.
Many of my clients who come to me for weight loss find themselves snacking on nuts or nut butter (peanut butter) for the protein without realizing it takes 200 calories to get the same amount of protein that 1 oz. of turkey could provide for 40 calories! (See why calories matter).
That's because nuts contain a lot of fat in addition to the protein.
As with the protein food group, I like to differentiate between animal sources and plant sources within the fat group. Know your fats!
I hope you enjoyed your basic nutrition lesson on the food groups. Now...
...on to recess!
More food group information on my Basic Nutrition page.
The Healthy Eating section.