Healthy Eating: A Guide to Understanding the Different Food Groups

Nutrition guidelines often divide foods into food groups, and the recommended daily amount suggests daily servings from each group for a balanced diet. In the United States, for example, the USDA has identified foods as 4 to 11 different groups. Knowing the different food groups and how much of each should form your diet can help you establish a healthy eating pattern over time. The five main food groups are fruits, vegetables, cereals, protein foods and dairy products. Each of these plays an important role in your daily diet.

Measuring your daily oils can be tricky, since you know what you add when cooking or baking is one thing, but oil is naturally present in some foods. The USDA promoted eight basic food groups before 1943, then seven basic food groups until 1956 and then four food groups. The equivalents in cups and the equivalents in ounces help you understand the different amounts of food from each food group you should eat. Try to avoid adding extra fat to starchy foods by adding butter, oil, spreads, cheese or jam; that just adds more calories. The Dietary Guidelines (PDF, 30.6 million) suggest that you eat 8 to 10 ounces a week of a variety of seafood, not only because of the protein, but also because seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, which are beneficial for the heart. The plant food group includes dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and legumes (beans and peas).Most sweetened beverages don't help meet food group goals and often contain a lot of calories.

Once you've eaten enough of the healthy foods described above to meet your needs for essential nutrients, you'll have calories left over. As these foods do not provide any nutritional benefits, they should only be consumed occasionally and in limited quantities. Foods and beverages that are high in fat, salt or sugar include chocolate, pastries, cookies, savory snacks and high-sugar soft drinks. The Canadian Food Guide recognizes only four official food groups and lists the rest of the foods as another. It is important to consume the recommended amount from each food group without exceeding the recommended daily calories.

Any food made from wheat, rye, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or other grains is a grain-based product.