Knowing the food groups you are eating (and how much you need of each group) can help you get the right balance of nutrition your body needs for optimal performance. Optimal performance for your brain too. Healthy Eating means getting the right amount (and portion size) of each food group daily. That includes grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and oils.
Many diets tell you the number of portions you can eat each day or week, so if you are dieting, it’s important to learn about each group so you can be sure that you are getting the nutrition you need. Be sure to read our article: Good Nutrition and Why You Need It.
Here are the 7 Basic Food Groups:
Yes, you’ll see the number of food groups vary from 3 to 6 with 5 being the most common. Oils and Solid Fats and Added Sugars are often not considered a food group but discussed as it pertains to other foods. For this article, we’ll take a closer look at all 7 groups.
Any food made from wheat, rye, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is a grain product. In addition to bread and pasta, there is cereal, rice, grits, tortillas, even popcorn. Because these foods can be processed and stored easily, these foods are readily available and many people find it easy to eat more grains than needed.
Advice: Look for grain choices that are low in saturated and trans fat and low in added sugar when possible. But be careful to read the label because low-fat baked goods can be high in added sugar.
Try to choose grain products made from whole grains. Make sure the first food on the ingredients list contains the word “whole,” such as whole wheat, whole oats, or whole grain. Other whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur, and quinoa. Whole grains can help you add fiber to your diet.
Here are examples of a one ounce (1 oz.) or an ounce-equivalent of grain:
Slice of bread
Small (2 ½ inch) muffin
Cup flaked cereal
½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal
Three cups popcorn
6-inch corn or flour tortilla
What these grain examples look like on your plate:
Quick Tip – Snacking
When you are out and about and need a snack, don’t be tempted by a candy bar. Instead, pack up some fruit or raw vegetables to take along.
Sometimes, vegetables get a bum rap. That’s a shame because delicious vegetables come in a wide variety of colors and flavors. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, collard greens, spinach, and kale. Some red and orange vegetables are acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomato, and sweet potato. Starchy vegetables are foods like corn, green peas, and white potatoes. Other vegetables include eggplant, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, celery, artichokes, and onions. Beans and peas (not green peas) include black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, soybeans, and tofu.
Did you know?: Some vegetablescan also be counted in the proteinfoods group.
Here are examples of a half ounce (1/2 oz.) or an ounce-equivalent of vegetables:
Cup of uncooked leafy vegetables
Six baby carrots or one medium carrot
Half a large baked sweet potato
Five broccoli florets
Half of a large (3 x 4-inch) red pepper
Half cup cooked green beans
What these vegetable examples look like on your plate:
Like most Americans, older people generally do not eat enough fruit. Yet, there are so many choices – citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits; different kinds of berries; fruits that grow on trees such as apricots, cherries, peaches, and mangoes; and others like figs, raisins, and pineapples.
Advice: Try some fruits that you haven’t eaten before. Fruits with skins like apples and pears provide extra fiber that promotes regularity.
Here are examples of a half-cup (½ cup) of fruit:
Small piece of fruit such as a 2-inch peach
¼ cup dried fruit
One-eighth of a medium cantaloupe
Four ounces of 100% fruit juice
Half a medium grapefruit
What these fruit examples look like on your plate:
It can be a surprise to find out how often you eat more than the suggested amount of protein. But, simply cutting back on other food groups to keep your calories in line won’t solve the problem because you’ll be missing out on the nutrients those food groups give you.In addition to watching how much food with protein you eat, try to choose lean or low-fat foods. Higher-fat choices count as added fats and oils. Try to eat seafood instead of meat at least twice a week to balance your proteins. Small fish, like sardines or trout, or farm-raised fish (check the label) contain less mercury than large fish, like tuna. Mercury can be harmful.
Here are examples of a one ounce (1 oz.) serving of protein:
12 almonds or 7 walnut halves
Tablespoon peanut butter
Half cup lentil or bean soup
¼ cup tofu
Two tablespoons hummus
What these protein examples look like on your plate:
Quick Tip – Vegetable or Protein?
If you are unsure how to count beans, peas, and foods made from soybeans as a vegetables or protein serving, the answer is: it’s up to you.
As an example: if you eat ½ cup of baked beans with dinner, you can choose to count the beans as ½ cup of vegetables or 2 ounces of protein. This will depend on what else you’ve eaten during the day.
Most adults do not get enough dairy products. For your heart health, always try to pick from the many low-fat or fat-free choices in the dairy products food group. Choosing fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt, rather than cheese, gives you important vitamins and minerals and less sodium and fat.
One cup of milk is the same as:
1 cup or 8 ounces yogurt
1-1/2 ounces hard cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan
Third cup shredded cheese
1 cup calcium-fortified soy beverage
Two cups cottage cheese
1 cup of pudding made with milk
Here’s what these dairy examples look like on your plate:
Oils are high in calories, but they are also an important source of nutrients like vitamin E. If possible, use oils instead of solid fats, like butter, when cooking. Measuring your daily oils can be tricky – knowing what you add while cooking or baking is one thing, but be aware that oil is naturally part of some foods.
How much oil is in:
Half a medium avocado has three teaspoons (3 tsp.) of oil
Four large ripe olives have half teaspoon (½ tsp.) of oil
Tablespoon of peanut butter has two teaspoons (2 tsp.) of oil
For most people, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Patterns allow extra calories every day for solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) in the processed foods they eat.
Choosing foods that are low in fat and without added sugar whenever possible might just leave you with some extra calories left over each day. These extra calories can be used as you like. So you could ‘cheat’ a little but you’ll still want to count the calories and watch your SoFAS limits. Otherwise you might be wondering why your pants are getting a little snug when you just had a few ‘extra’ calories every day.
With both the USDA Food Patterns and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, added sugars mean more calories without more nutrients. For some people, added sugars can lead to higher levels of fats in the blood, raising their risk of heart disease.
Read the ingredients label to see if the processed foods you are eating have added sugar. In addition to other updates, food labels will now include “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label to inform consumers of their sugar intake. Look for these key words on the label:
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