Your body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to sustain it throughout your day. Your body can make a few of the necessary vitamins on its own, but you must get most of them from the foods you eat. Each food group contributes to your nutritional needs in a different way, so you should eat a balanced diet with healthy foods from each group.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice is considered part of the fruit group. The USDA recommends 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit per day for moderately active adults. Fruits are high in vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. Fruit is a rich source of fiber and also contains various antioxidants. Antioxidants found in fruit protect your body from aging and disease by protecting cells from the effects of free radicals.
Adults should consume at least 2 1/2 to three cups of vegetables each day. A "Journal of Nutrition" study indicates that Americans are consuming very few leafy green and yellow vegetables. Since vegetables of different colors have different minerals and antioxidants, this can leave you at a deficit of many vitamins. Vegetables are rich in vitamins A, C, E and folic acid. Beans, potatoes and tomato products are good sources of potassium, as well. Vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which may protect you against developing heart disease.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and protein. All of these nutrients are necessary to build healthy bones and teeth. The Dairy Council of California attributes an increase in bone fractures in children to replacement of milk with beverages that do not provide the nutrients necessary for optimal bone development. The USDA recommends that you consume three cups of low-fat dairy products each day.
The USDA considers beans to be a part of the meat and vegetable group. This group also contains fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds. The USDA recommends that adults eat five to 6 1/2 ounce equivalents from this group each day. Foods from this group contain lots of protein, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Meat is also rich in B-complex vitamins, which your body needs for energy metabolism. Choose lean proteins for optimal nutrition without unnecessary saturated fat.
Grains are foods made from wheat, rice, corn, oats or barley. Grains can be whole or refined. Whole grains retain the whole grain kernel, while refined grains have the outer layers removed. Grains, especially whole grains, are full of heart-healthy fiber. Refined grains are often fortified to return the B vitamins and iron that are lost during the refining process. Whole grains have magnesium and selenium that your body needs for healthy muscles and a strong immune system.