Food groupings are classified by dividing foods into fundamental categories. These group designations follow the categories of the new food pyramid — carbohydrates, fats, proteins and dairy — and align foods according to their composition and nutritional properties based on the science of nutrition.
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The New Food Pyramid
According to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), the USDA recently replaced the food pyramid that was introduced years ago. Instead of the pyramid shape — which the NCHR says was criticized for confusing consumers — the new "ChooseMyPlate" recommendation contains five food groups of unequal sections, which include a hearty mix of carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables), proteins, fats and dairy. To plan a healthy meal, you should now follow these food points:
- Fill 50 percent of your plate with fruits and vegetables. This includes adding a rainbow of colors to your plate and cooking (or not cooking) your fruits and veggies in different ways each meal, such as leaving them whole and/or raw or steaming or roasting them. The NCHR also suggests limiting your intake of fried
fruits and vegetables.
You should cap your consumption of potatoes, as this vegetable contains rapidly digested starch. This causes the same effect on your digestive system as sweets, according to June 2017 article from Harvard Health Publishing.
- The other 50 percent of your plate should be chock full of healthy grains and lean proteins. For grains, look for "whole" on the label. Other sensible options include whole wheat bread and brown
rice. You should try to stay away from white rice, white bread, desserts and prepackaged, junk foods. Such foods can lead to long-term weight gain,
overeating, hunger and heart disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
For protein, look for lean proteins, such as poultry, legumes, eggs and nuts. You should limit your consumption of red meat, which when eaten on a regular basis, can lead to heart disease and weight gain.
- The small amount of dairy you eat (as a side, according to the new My Plate recommendation) shouldn't include
anything with full fat. Products like 1 percent or non-fat milk, string cheese
and Greek yogurt are generally best choices.
The NCHR suggests staying cognizant of what's in your food by reading labels. Look for added ingredients, as well as how much sodium, sugar and saturated fat are in the product. For example, some fruit juices contain little juice and consist mostly of sugar.
Harvard Health Publishing suggests using healthy oils such as olive, canola and plant oils in cooking and in salad dressings, as they can help reduce bad cholesterol. For hydration, you should stick to drinking water, tea and coffee with little or no sugar.
Vitamin Foods to Eat
Carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water are essential for survival. To construct a healthy diet blended with the right amount of variety and nutrition and catered to your eating preference, you need to understand and familiarize yourself with the food groupings:
What they do: According to a June 2019 article from Physiology, carbohydrates are of the main macronutrients in the human diet. Carbohydrate foods contain sugars and starches to provide energy in the form of glucose. (The body prefers glucose for the brain, central nervous system and red blood cells to function.)
You will find two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are used for energy and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion. Complex carbs take longer to digest and have a more gradual effect on increasing blood sugar, according to researchers.
Any increase or decrease in the amount of carbohydrates beyond what you need can affect physiological and metabolic processes.
Examples: Grains — Whole wheat, rolled oats, barley, rye and brown rice.
Vegetables — Based on their nutrient content, vegetables are organized into five groups: starchy, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, dark-green vegetables and other vegetables, according to the USDA. Starchy vegetables include corn, potatoes and winter squash. Red and orange vegetables include bell peppers and carrots. Dark-green vegetables include leafy greens like spinach. Other vegetables include cabbage and cucumbers, for example.
Fruits — Popular types include apples, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, peaches and oranges.
The USDA's ChooseMyPlate suggests you consume these amounts:
Grains — The amount each person needs varies between 3 to 8 ounces each day. At least half of your grains should be whole grains. A 1-ounce equivalent includes one slice of bread, 1 cup of whole grain cereal, one-half cup of brown rice, one-half cup of pasta and one-half cup of cooked cereal.
Vegetables — An adult needs 1 to 3 cups each day. A cup equals 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 2 cups of raw, leafy vegetables.
Fruits — An adult's needs will vary between 1 to 2 cups per day. A cup equates to one small apple, one large banana or 32 seedless grapes.
What they do:
The primary role of protein is to heal injured tissue, and for growth and development in the body. Proteins also maintain the immune system and hormonal balance. Other protein functions include providing support for cells, transporting small molecules within cells and around the body and transmitting signals to coordinate biological processes. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, proteins are made up of hundreds to thousands of amino acids, attached to each other in long chains. These amino acids can be combined to make a protein.
Examples: Animal and plant — Animal protein includes poultry, meat, eggs and fish, whereas plant proteins include nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
Dairy — Low-fat or non-fat milk, string cheese and low-fat yogurt.
Vegetables also contain protein content, such as spinach and soybeans.
According to the USDA, an adult's needs will vary between 2 to 6 1/2 ounces each day. One-ounce equivalents include 1 ounce of meat or fish, one-quarter cup of cooked beans, one egg or one-half ounce of nuts or seeds.
What they do:
Three forms of fat — saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — produce fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid that are required by more than half the cells in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for neurological growth and development; omega-6 fatty acids form the structural membranes in cells and are required for normal skin function. Fats also help the body absorb vitamins, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Certain fat types are bad for your health:
- Saturated fats, which are found in condiments like butter, oils such as coconut and palm and beef fat. Popular dishes you find in restaurants are also high in saturated fat, such as pizza, burgers and tacos.
- Trans fats (short for trans fatty acids), which occur naturally or are processed. You will find them in desserts, microwave popcorn and coffee creamer. However, trans fats are slowly being phased out by food manufacturers, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Foods that contain mostly saturated or trans fat are solid at room temperature.
Certain fat types are good for your health:
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
Foods that contain mostly monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat are liquid at room temperature. Both of these fat types lower your chance of heart disease when eaten in moderation.
The National Institute on Aging offers the following suggestions on how to lower your saturated fat intake:
- Remove the skin from chicken.
- Use fat-free dairy products. If you can't, choose low fat instead.
- Choose cuts of meat with less fat.
- Use olive oil and canola for cooking.
- Replace ingredients in recipes that contain saturated fat with vegetables, whole grains and fat-free dairy products.
Examples of healthy fats:
Olive, avocado, canola and peanut oils contain monounsaturated fat. Fish, walnut, safflower and corn oils contain polyunsaturated fats.
Recommended amount: According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should limit yourself to no more than 10 percent of your calories each day to saturated and/or trans fat. Your total fat should only come from 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories.
Vitamins and Minerals
What they do:
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, vitamins and minerals are necessary substances that our bodies need to function and survive. They are often used in dietary supplements, but they can't take the place of eating foods. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming your vitamins and minerals in foods, rather than supplementing with a multivitamins.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that most individuals can get all of the needed vitamins and minerals from following a healthy diet. But some people don't get enough nutrients from food alone, are pregnant or have medical conditions and would benefit from taking a multivitamin.
Known vitamins include A, C, D, E, K, B vitamins, folate and biotin. Known minerals include calcium, fluoride, manganese, selenium, iron, zinc, cobalt and sulfur.
A 2019 study from Consumer Reports recommends the following five multivitamins as the most effective. Researchers evaluated for potency, money-back guarantee and price:
- Dr. Tobias Adult Multivitamin
- Centrum Adult
- Nature's Way Alive!
- Nature Made's Multivitamin
- Muscletech Platinum
You should follow the above recommendations for fruits, vegetables, proteins and fats to get your necessary vitamins and minerals. If you want to supplement your diet with a multivitamin, you should read the label on how much you need to take daily. Most manufacturers' products recommend one to two capsules or tablets per day.
Read more: How to Meal Plan for Every Diet and Budget
- National Center for Health Research: “MyPlate: A New Alternative to the Food Pyramid”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Harvard Researchers Continue to Support Their Healthy Eating Plate”
- USDA: "Choose MyPlate"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "What Are Proteins and What Do They Do?"
- Consumer Reports: "Top Rated Multivitamins of 2019"
- National Institute on Aging: "Important Nutrients to Know: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Table of Contents"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Vitamins and Minerals"
- Physiology: "Carbohydrates"