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The Functions of the Six Major Food Groups

author image Shannan Bergtholdt
Shannan Bergtholdt, a registered dietitian since 2003, has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and a Master of Science in Education in exercise science and wellness. Her research in aerobic training and nutritional screening has been published in two peer-reviewed journals. Her mission is sharing practical ways to incorporate healthy eating into any lifestyle.
The Functions of the Six Major Food Groups
Foods from each food group contribute to overall health. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

Though the functions of foods are the same, the six food groups of the food guide pyramid have evolved. The United States Department of Agriculture transformed the food guide pyramid into a new icon for dietary guidelines, the MyPlate Guide. The MyPlate Guide icon visually represents the USDA's recommendations for choosing a healthy eating pattern and is designed to show the proper proportions of what is now the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins and dairy.

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One quarter of your plate should be grains, according to the MyPlate Guide. Half of your grain servings should come from whole grains, meaning that the grain contains all three parts of the kernel – bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grains are a source of magnesium, B vitamins and fiber that work collectively to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, while supporting a healthy metabolism.


Vegetables are loaded with good nutrition and are naturally low fat and cholesterol-free. The MyPlate guide recommends that one half of your plate contain vegetables, as well as fruit. Vegetables provide a variety of nutrients including potassium, fiber, folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin C. A diet rich in vegetables reduces the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.


Fruits, as well as vegetables, are nutritional powerhouses that should make up one half of your plate at mealtime, in conjunction with vegetables. Fruits are good sources of potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and fiber. Fruits, like vegetables, contain antioxidants that protect cells against damaging free radicals. Many fruits are also naturally low in calories and can contribute to a healthy weight when eaten, instead of high-calorie foods.


One quarter of your plate should be protein foods, including meat, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds. Protein supports muscles and is an important component of body tissues, blood and hormones. Fish and shellfish contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent heart disease.


Dairy foods have all the essential nutrients for bone health, including potassium, calcium and vitamin D. Research indicates that incorporating milk and milk products into the diet can help promote bone health and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The potassium in dairy products also helps reduce blood pressure.


With the creation of MyPlate, the USDA eliminated oils as a food group. However, oils are often used in cooking and added to other foods in the form of salad dressings or sauces. Oils contribute essential fatty acids and the antioxidant vitamin E and are part of a healthful diet.

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