Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | March 5, 2012

A Little Of This, A Little Of That

A Little Of This, A Little Of That: the ingredients to a balanced diet!

The ingredients of a balanced diet include a variety of foods from all of the major food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats and beans (proteins). Not only will a properly balanced diet meet all of your nutrient needs, it will also promote your overall health and well-being, helping you to look and feel your best. When combined with regular physical activity, a balanced diet can help prevent conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.

The USDA food guide makes eating a balanced meal even easier, they make your plate for you! MyPlate displays each of the necessary food groups as a different color. The size of each colored shape on the plate corresponds to the portion of food you should eat from that group. When making your plate, keep in mind:

  • Enjoy food, but eat less.
  • Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables or fruits.
  • Half of the grains you consume should be whole grains.
  • When consuming dairy, choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) options.
  • Keep sodium levels in your diet low. Choose foods low in sodium.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the food groups…

There are two main types of grains, whole and refined. Whole grains include whole wheat products, whole rye, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, and popcorn. Refined grains include products made mostly from white flour (eg, most breads, crackers, pastas, tortillas), white rice, corn flakes, grits, and couscous. Whole grains are naturally high in nutrients and fiber. Shopping tip: look for the word “whole” before the grain name on the list of ingredients, ideally it will be the first one!

Vegetables can be divided into five subgroups: dark green, orange, dry beans and peas, starchy, and other. Each of these groups provides different nutritional values. Vegetables in the dark green and orange groups are rich in vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Vegetables in the dry beans and peas group provide considerable amounts of protein, iron, and zinc. They are also considered part of the “meats and beans” group. Shopping tip:  Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, contain more carbohydrate than other vegetables and are sometimes treated as part of the grains group.

When it comes to fruit, fresh, dried, frozen, or canned (without added sugar) are all excellent choices. Fruit juice is also good, but often packs in a lot of calories and does not contain all the added fiber of foods eaten in their whole form. Like vegetables, fruits are an important source of vitamins and antioxidants.

The milk group includes dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, and milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a vitamin that many of us would otherwise not get enough of. Individuals who choose not to eat dairy should be sure to include other calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods in their diet (eg, calcium-fortified orange juice, green leafy vegetables).

The protein group includes poultry, fish, beef, eggs, nuts, beans, and legumes. These foods are our main source of protein, along with other key nutrients such as iron and zinc. To limit your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, choose lean meats and eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

Other Foods and Beverages: Foods and beverages high in added sugar or solid fat (eg, cookies, cake, muffins, ice cream, potato chips, French fries, soda, certain juices, specialty coffee drinks) should be consumed in limited amounts. For the most part, these foods are low in nutrients and high in calories. Alcoholic beverages, if consumed, should be limited to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

For an individualized plan (especially if you are trying to lose weight or manage a chronic condition), see a registered dietitian.



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