The U.S. Department of Agriculture established recommended daily servings for each food group to provide an easy tool for creating a healthy, balanced diet. These requirements are for people who exercise for 30 minutes or less daily. If you’re more active, the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," provided by the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers recommendations you can follow to increase your intake according to the calories you burn.
Women need 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily and men should consume 2 cups of fruits daily, according to the USDA’s recommendations. Any form of fruit is acceptable, but whole fruit is the best choice because the skin and pulp contain nutrients and fiber. A 1-cup serving of fruit is equivalent to 1 cup of sliced fruit, 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice or 1/2 cup of dried fruit. Since juice has very little fiber, choose whole fruits more often than juice. Watch for added sugar in fruit juice and canned or frozen fruits.
The recommended daily intake for vegetables is 2 to 2-1/2 cups for women and 2 1/2 to 3 cups for men. The USDA divides vegetables into five subgroups: dark green leafy, red and orange, starchy veggies, beans and "other" vegetables. The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010” provides recommendations for how much to eat daily from each group, such as getting 9 percent of your daily intake from dark green leafy vegetables. However, the most important thing to remember is to eat a variety of vegetables each day.
Whole Grain Goodness
Processed grains, such as white rice, lose nutrients and fiber when the bran and germ layers of the grain are removed. These refined grains are usually enriched with vitamins and minerals, but they never regain the fiber. For this reason, the USDA recommends getting half of your daily grains from whole grains. The recommendation is stated in terms of ounce equivalents to allow for different types of grains. Women need 5- to 6-ounce equivalents of grains daily, while men need 6- to 8-ounce equivalents, depending on age. A 1-ounce equivalent equals one slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
Poultry, fish, meat and eggs are obvious members of the protein group. Vegetable sources of protein in this group include soy products, nuts, seeds, beans and peas. The USDA recommends 5- to 5 1/2-ounce equivalents daily from the protein group for women and 5 1/2- to 6 1/2-ounce equivalents for men. A 1-ounce equivalent equals 1 ounce of lean meat, poultry or fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds and 1/4 cup of cooked beans.
Don't Forget Dairy
Don't ignore dairy products just because you're an adult. Milk and dairy foods are good sources of protein and bone-building calcium. The downside is that they're high in fat, so choose low-fat or fat-free products. Men and women should consume 3 cups of dairy products daily, such as milk, yogurt or cheese. When it comes to cheese, a 1-cup serving equals 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese or 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.