Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Understanding Food Groups


Food groups are a joyful, variant, colorful and balanced approach for a life-long healthy eating pattern for you and your family.


Food groups established by USDA represent foods sorted basically by their vitamin and nutrient content (i.e. qualitative approach); each group represents a set of nutrients that differ from nutrients supplied from another group. Consequently foods are divided into 5 main groups, plus fat group.


The purpose is to direct people toward paying attention to cover all kinds of food in their diets to achieve health goals and prevent deficiencies.


How can food groups help you lose weight?

Before we answer that, let’s first explore food groups; what are these groups? What foods belong to each one of them? What health benefits does each one of them provide? How does a serving of each one of them look like?

Foods are divided into:

1- Grains group

2- Milk  group

3- Fruits group

4- Vegetables group

5- Protein group

Plus oils and added sugars.


Grains group


Foods considered as grains are like rice, wheat, oats, pasta, cereals, barley, oatmeal, corn, cornmeal, and any product made from them.

They are important since they deliver energy and a wide range of B-complex vitamins, iron, selenium, magnesium, and dietary fiber.


  • Grains can be divided into two groups:

Whole grains: grains that contain their entire kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm). Examples are: rolled oats and brown rice.

Refined grains: grains that their bran and germ have been removed through milling, this is done by manufacturers to reduce rancidity and Increase shelf-life (time before food start spoiling) to have finer texture. Examples are: white rice, white flour.

  • A serving of this group is about one of the next:

- ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereals = size of a light bulb

- 1 slice of bread or pancake = size of a CD

- 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal = size of a fist

- 3 cups of popcorn, each cup = size of a fist

  • Health Tips:

- Make at least half of your grain consumption from whole grains.

- Choose products that have “Whole grain” written on its nutrition facts label, or “enriched” which means that number of vitamins are re-added to the processing.

- Pay attention to your consumption of this group since excessive intake of it will lead to too much caloric intake.


Why is it preferred to use whole grains over refined grains?

Whole grains have higher nutritional value than refined grains due to the presence of the bran and germ, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber, which are lost in the refining process, although equal portions of both whole and refined grains contain the same amount of calories.

Beside the nutritional value, fiber improves the bowel movement and has the ability to bind to fats in the intestines and reduce their absorption, hence help you lose weight.



Milk group


Foods belonging to this group are milk and products made of milk -products that retain the calcium content of milk after processing-.

This group is highly important for it’ calcium content (calcium is essential for bone growth and maintenance), plus protein, riboflavin, vitamin b12 and potassium.

  • A serving of this group is about one of the next:

- One cup of milk or yogurt

- 45 g of natural cheese about  1 slice (equivalent to ½ cup milk-nutrients wise) which means if you eat 2 slices of natural cheese as if you had 1 cup of milk, from nutrients point of view

- 60 g of processed cheese (equivalent to ⅓ cup milk-nutrient wise)

- 1/3 cup of shredded chees

- 45 g of cheese is about the size of 4 stacked dice


  • Health Tip:

- Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products more often, for drinking and in cooking.

- Choose vitamin D fortified dairy products, (calcium and vitamin D balance is very important for bone health and reducing chance of osteoporosis).

Fruit group



This group includes all types of fresh fruit, 100% fruit juice, dried fruit, canned and frozen fruit.

They deliver wide range of vitamins, minerals and fiber in varying proportions, and they are nutrient-dense (i.e.: have more nutrients for less energy).


Common fruits are: Apples, banana, cherries, apricots, watermelon, avocado, grapes, figs, dates, raisins, mango, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, peaches, pineapple, plums, kiwi and others.


  • A serving of fruit equals about:

- 1 cup of fresh fruit = 1 medium fruit (about the size of baseball)

- ½ cup of chopped, cooked, canned or 100% fruit juice

- ¼ cup of dried fruit


  • Health Tips:

- Vary your choices of this group as possible to get wider array of nutrients.

- Avoid sweetened fruit juices, go for fresh natural options.

Vegetables group


This group includes all types of vegies and 100% vegetable juice.

Vegetable group provide they contribute to wide range of vitamins and minerals, and excellent source of fiber, and are divided into sub-groups based on their content of certain nutrient as follows: 


- Deep orange, yellow and red vegies like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, they are rich in beta carotene (which protect against free-radical damage and it is converted to vitamin A in the body)

- Legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, black-eyed beans, lentils, soy beans and soy beans products such as tofu and split peas, they are rich in protein, and iron.

- Starchy vegies like potatoes, corn, cassava, lima beans, green beans, they are rich in starch so they are a good source of energy as carbohydrates.

- Other vegies like Tomato, celery, sprouts, zucchini, squash, avocado, pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, cucumber and others, they fill the gaps and add more nutrients.

  • A serving of this group equals about:

- 1 cup of raw vegetables (about the size of a fist)

- ½ cup of cooked or vegetable juice

- Size of fist, of baked potato.


  • Health Tip:

Make sure your diet covers all sub-groups of vegetables throughout the week.

Protein group


This group includes meat, poultry, sea foods, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and processed soy products.

Protein group is very important for building and maintenance of tissues, and preventing some types of blood anemia. 

This group is rich in protein, B-complex vitamins, vitamin E; minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium; legumes are richer in fiber and lower in fat compared to meat; seeds, nuts and nuts butters are high in their fat content.

  • A serving of this group equals about:

- 30 g of cooked meat, poultry or fish, a 90 g

- ½ cup of cooked dry beans

- 1 egg

- 1 teaspoon of peanut butter, about the size of 2 thumbs

- 15 g of nuts or seeds ≈ about 1 tablespoon.


  • Health tips:

- Choose lean and low fat meat cuts

- Include at least two servings of sea food a week.



Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, used in cooking and added to dressings; Mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft margarine are considered foods that are mainly oil.

They provide vitamin E and essential fatty acids with high caloric content.

  • Oils can be classified according to their relative content of fat saturation into:

- Rich in saturated fatty acids: coconut oil,  palm oil

- Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids: olive oil, safflower oil, peanut and canola oils

- Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids: sunflower oil, corn oil, soy bean oil, cottonseed and walnut oils.


  • Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening; solid fats come from animal food sources, or can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation (a process by which some or all of the points of unsaturation are saturated, making fats more solid to protect them against rancidity, and producing trans-fats).


  • A serving of oils group is:

Teaspoon of oil, margarine, low-fat mayonnaise, or 2 teaspoons of light salad dressing


  • Health tips:

- Oils provide nutritional benefits, but they are also bulk in calories, so limit consumption to match all desirable daily caloric intake.

- Make most of your oil choices from ones that are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, because –unlike saturated fats- they lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

- Avoid foods with the word “trans-fats” written on their nutrition fact label, because trans-fats behave like saturated fat inside our bodies.

- Limit solid intake as possible, they are mostly saturated fats.


  • Info:

Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, none of plant foods contain cholesterol.

An equal amount of oil and solid fat deliver the same amount of calories, but has different effect on health due to difference in percent of saturation.



Sugar provides abundant calories, but scare in nutrients, too much sugar intake in foods and drinks increases your chance of obesity and its corresponding health risks, so intake should be in lowest amount possible.

Each 1 teaspoon of sugar provides 16 Calories. 


Health tip:

- Limit foods and beverages with added sugar as possible

- Prepare deserts with fewer amount of sugar, or use fruits as sweets and deserts.

Now back to our question…


How can food groups help you lose weight?

The key for successful, steady weight loss is by covering all food groups each day in your meals, while paying attention to the overall amount of calories consumed per day.


Fitnessyard makes this easy for you by providing the Recipes directory which contains Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks ideas that are nutrients-rich, along with their Caloric content and nutrition facts, now you can build your own food menus using Nutrition plan builder, all you need to do is to make sure to cover all food groups in your diet plan and not to exceed your daily calorie intake.


The recommended amount of each food group varies depending on age, sex and level of physical activity, but for estimation; a 1800-Calorie diet for example has:

- 1 ½ cups of fruit

- 2 ½ cups of vegetables

- 170 g of grains ≈ ¾ cup

- 140 g of meat and legumes

- 3 cups of milk

- 5 teaspoons of oil

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