Food groups

What are the names of the food groups?

The basic food groups names are grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and meat –meats or protein rich food. This classification pertains to the latest dietary recommendations. There is more to it.

More about the food groups

Modern advice not only consider the nutrients -macro and micro- in food. It also balances portion sizes in relation to the age, gender and level of activity in people.

Grains - This group includes bread, breakfast cereals, rice and pasta. The advice is to go for whole grains –aim to get half of your grains whole- instead of refined grains. Refined grains have been processed and lost most of their nutritional contain. They have to be enriched –the lost B vitamins and iron are added again- or people eating only refined grains would miss essential vitamins and might get sick from the lack of them. Although fiber is also lost in the process, is not added back to enrich grains, therefore the advice to eat 50% whole grains.

The daily minimum amount ranges from 1½ oz for toddlers to 3 oz for adults. These requirements vary with age and gender, for instance 4 oz equivalents is the recommended minimum amount for an active 19-30 years old man.

Vegetables - Because not all the vegetables are equal, the advice is to aim for color –dark green and orange vegetables- and for beans and pulses. Potatoes are in the starchy vegetable subgroup and should be consumed in moderation. There are 5 categories based in nutrient content: dark green, orange, beans and pulses, starchy vegetables and other vegetables. In the other vegetables category there are valuable ones such as tomatoes or cabbage.

The minimum daily amount recommended for vegetables ranges from 1 cup for a toddler to 2½ cups for adults. These guidelines change with age, gender and level of activity.

Fruits - Eat a variety of fruits –fresh, frozen, canned or dried- 100% fruit juices also count as a serving, but go easy on fruit juices, they are like liquid candy.

Adults require a minimum of 2 cups of fruit per day, varying depending on age, gender and level of activity, and toddlers only 1 cup.

Dairy - Yogurt, cheese, milk are a good source of a variety of vitamins and still one of the best source of calcium –although not the only one. Those intolerant to milk need to find an alternative source.

In short, adults would need 3 cups or equivalent of cheese, yogurt and milk –their needs vary slightly with gender, age and level of activity- while toddlers would do with 2 cups.

Meat & High Protein foods - In meat and beans, aim for lean. Look for low fat meats and poultry; eggs, fish and nuts also count, as do beans. Beans are part of the vegetable group and the protein group, so a serving of beans kills two birds with a stone, apart from being a good source of fiber.
Adult women would require 5 oz of meat, poultry, fish or beans, while adult men had better eat 6 oz; toddlers only need 1 oz of these.

What about oils, fats, refined sugar and sweets?

Fats and oils are something to consider apart and sweets are definitely something extra.

Oils, fats - Although we need some oils and fats, the foods in the other groups contain those as part of their nutrients. Have a smattering only, please, and choose un-saturated vegetable oil preferably.

Sugars and sweets - Sugars provide calories but little else, so eat only if you are within your calorie limit. Try to sweet snacks, desserts and beverages to a minimum.

We use food for its nutrients

When we put food in our mouths, the food is digested and broken down into smaller components which can be carried by the blood all over the body to nourish every cell.

When we eat, food is broken down into nutrients. Macronutrients supply our fundamental needs –energy for life and components to help us grow and regenerate our bodies- while micronutrients keep our body efficient –they impact the way food is absorbed and if it will make us feel well or not.

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are macronutrients and the kind of nutrient which calories count. These are fundamental foods to deliver energy and we need to consume a minimum of calories to keep alive. However, calories are only one part of the story –we also need proteins to build muscle, so where your calories come from is important.

Vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids are micronutrients. These act as catalyst for the chemical reactions that are the base of life and keep us healthy. They are called micronutrients because we do not need very large amounts of them, but we do need them –we need calcium to grow bone, for instance.

Humans cannot produce vitamins from scratch –as plants do-and is not able either to manufacture essential fatty acids. Those need to come with our food.

What we should eat

In brief, the advice is to make grains the base of our diet, making half of them whole grains. Eat plenty and variety of vegetables and fruits, without forgetting beans. Enjoy yogurt, cheese and milk as a valuable source of nutrients. Eat some meat, fish, eggs and legumes.

Minimum daily recommended amounts vary with age and gender.