When it comes to good nutrition, what you should and shouldn’t eat, and how much you should eat can be overwhelming and confusing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has laid it out for everyone with their famous “Food Pyramid”, which has been updated in recent years.
This diagram clearly outlines what the best foods are for you to eat, and how much of them you should eat each day. By using this tool as a general guide for your diet, you will be able to maintain a healthy weight, in addition to receiving all of the nutrients that your body needs to function properly.
The Food Pyramid is broken down into 5 food groups, starting at the bottom:
1. Grains. Whole grains and complex carbohydrates are an important source of energy, and make up the base of the food pyramid. Whole grains are the best for us to eat, which are made from whole-wheat flour, rather than white flour. They are not as processed, and therefore still contain many of their vital nutrients and fiber. It is recommended that you eat 6-11 servings from this group each day. Examples include:
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat pasta
2. Fruits & Vegetables. These nutrient-rich foods are all-natural because they come from the earth, and are loaded with many different nutrients, including fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, and folic acid. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to garner the greatest health benefits. Try to get 3-5 vegetable servings and 2-4 fruit servings per day. Some examples of low-fat fruits and vegetables are:
- Strawberries (high sugar)
- Nectarines and peaches
3. Proteins. Proteins help your body to build and retain muscle, as well as provide the energy you need each day. Protein-rich foods such as beans, lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs also provide healthy doses of zinc and iron.
Some of the foods in this group can be high in cholesterol, so keep that in mind when making food choices. 2-3 servings of protein are recommended each day. Aside from meat, you can find protein in the following items:
- Cheese and other dairy products (often high in fat)
4. Dairy. Dairy products provide us with bone-building calcium, which is known to help prevent osteoporosis. While this is a very important food group to include in a balanced diet, it is important to remember that some dairy foods are high in fat, such as ice cream and cheese. Remember portion control, and try to get 2-3 servings of dairy daily. You can also get calcium from eating:
- Seaweed (in sushi)
5. Fats and sweets. While technically not a food group, this category is here because most people can’t live without at least some of the tempting treats within! The foods in this group, which include butter, candy and desserts, oils, and sugars, provide very little nutritional benefit when consumed. Use these foods in moderation, and stick to healthy fats such as:
- Oily fish (tuna, salmon)
Following this pyramid will give you the tools to following a well-balanced diet. You might think that it is impossible to get than many servings of all the different types of foods in the pyramid. But there is something to think about, especially if you are trying to lose weight, or maintain a recent weight loss, and that is portion control.
Portions can make or break a diet, and most people have no real idea of what a portion is. Therefore, most of us tend to eat a little (or a lot!) more than a suggested portion.
A portion is:
- 1 slice of bread
- ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta
- ¾ cup (6 oz.) whole fruit juice
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- 1 medium apple or banana
- 2-3 oz. of lean meat
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 ½ oz. of natural cheese
When you see what a portion really is, you might realize that it isn’t that difficult to fit all the right foods in to your daily diet!