Food provides energy for your body to function as well as nutrients to support the thousands of reactions necessary for the cells, tissues and organs to grow and develop. The term macro nutrient describes the chemical substances that provide calories for energy including carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Micro nutrients include the many essential vitamins and minerals required in smaller amounts. Nearly all foods, with the exception of items such as candy that provide only calories with no nutrients, provide some amount of both macro and micro nutrients.
The United States Department of Agriculture provides a breakdown of the types of foods you should eat, the macro and micro nutrients they provide and the amount to include for a balanced diet. Fruits, the matured ovary of a plant, generally contain seeds. Many different types of fruits exist from a variety of apples and berries to melons and citrus fruits. Fruits contain natural sugars classified as carbohydrates that the body uses for energy. They also provide micro nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and folate – also known as vitamin B-9. The USDA food pyramid suggests that adults should include 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit in their diet per day, depending on their level of activity.
A vegetable is a part of a plant, such as the flower, stem, root or leaf. Vegetables, further divided into five different subgroups, provide a variety of different nutrients. Although most vegetables are low in fat and calories, they do provide macronutrients, depending on the type of vegetables. Starchy vegetables, which include corn, peas and potatoes, provide carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals. Many vegetables, including green leafy vegetables and beans, provide protein. Due to their nutrient content, a diet rich in both fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, according to the USDA. Adults should therefore strive to consume between 2 and 3 cups of vegetables per day.
Grains provide energy in the form of carbohydrates and protein. Grains also serve as a good source of micro nutrients. Because most of the vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium, occur in the outer layers, whole grains that contain the bran, germ and endosperm intact, serve as the best source of nutrients. Refined grains remove the bran and germ, therefore removing many of the micro nutrients. Adults should consume between 5 and 8 oz. grains per day depending on gender and age.
Meat and Dairy
Animal-based foods include meat and dairy products. These classifications of food serve as the richest source of protein, but also contain fats that contribute to the calories for energy. Meats, including poultry, fish and eggs, provide B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Milk and related dairy products such as yogurt, provide the micro nutrients calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Adults should consume 3 cups of dairy products per day. To avoid excessive fat intake choose low-fat dairy products. The USDA recommends adults eat between 5 and 6.5 oz of meat combined with beans per day.