There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat”, if that is true, you want to put the most healthful foods into your body to ensure that you stay in optimum health.  Your diet plan should be diverse, with a wide variety of nutrients and healthful substances, and, of course, you want your meals and snacks to be tasty as well.  That’s a tall order isn’t it?  But, if you follow the Government guidelines and select your meals from each of the major food groups, your reward will be good health the rest of your life.

The major food groups

The food pyramid that you might have learned about in grade school, has been tweaked somewhat, but, for the most part, the five major food groups have remained the same.  You may recall the publicity given to our Government’s push to eat properly and follow the recommended dietary guidelines, which suggest you try to incorporate food from each groups into your daily diet.  Those guidelines are found here: or see below:

The major food groups are:

  • Vegetables (including legumes/beans);
  • Fruits (all fruits and juices);
  • Grains (mostly wholegrain and/or high-fiber cereal and bread);
  • Protein (lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts/seeds and legumes/beans); and
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat).

A balanced and healthy diet

People joke that pizza is good for you because it contains all the major food groups.  Well, if you glance at the list above, you’ll see that this is true, but only if you like pineapple slices on your pizza pie.

With the exception of pizza, there is no single food that is able to supply all the nutrients in the amounts you need on an ongoing basis.  As an example, nutritionists suggest that you have an orange rather than orange juice for optimum Vitamin C.  But, as healthy as an orange is, you get no other nutritional value except Vitamin C from that orange.

Vegetarian Diets

Some people opt for a vegetarian diet due to culture, or, for their good health.  A vegetarian diet consists of milk products and eggs, and a person who follows this diet would be termed a “lacto-ovo-vegetarian”.  If you are wondering if it is safe to go without eating meat, as long as you consume adequate proteins, you will enjoy excellent health.  As to eschewing meat, fish, and poultry, these are the items that provide iron, zinc and the B vitamins in most American diets, so, a vegetarian must pay close attention to their diet to ensure they get these vitamins from vegetarian sources, especially the B vitamins, which are derived from animal products.

For a vegan diet, nutrition gets a little trickier.  A vegan diet consists of only plant-derived foods, so no land or sea animals may be eaten.  No eggs, honey or milk may be consumed either.  For children on a vegan diet, care must be taken to ensure they have adequate amounts of Vitamin D and calcium, typically found in milk products, so here is where produce takes the place of dairy products.  You might be surprised to know that some vegetables and fruits will provide adequate absorbable calcium, like kale which yields 139 mgs of calcium per 100 gram serving.  Other suggested calcium-rich veggies include collard greens, broccoli and spinach.  As to fruits, dried apricots, figs and prunes provide high calcium content to replace milk.  Some vegans prefer soybean products to get adequate calcium intake.

Grains, fruits and vegetables are three of the components of the food groups.  All three of these categories are instrumental because they provide vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber), and other substances that are important for good health.  They are also low in fat (depending on how they are prepared).  It is important to include servings from these three food groups, especially since they contain plenty of fiber which aids in digestion.  Fiber is only found in these three food groups and your diet should include 25-35 grams of fiber daily in order to have proper bowel function, in addition to lowering the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Bad fats versus good fats

Bad fat, good fat – sometimes you don’t know what is good for you, if it is at all, but remember this – follow a diet that is low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.

Some dietary fat is needed for good health because fats supply energy and essential fatty acids and promote absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Thanks to all the “bad press” about harmful fat, Americans have tailored their diets to eat less fat, saturated fats and cholesterol-laden foods than ever before.

Here’s a primer on separating the good, the bad and the ugly.

Avoid high-fat foods

Fats and oils, and some types of desserts or snack foods provide calories but very few nutrients.  Some foods in the dairy and protein (meat/beans/eggs/nuts) groups are very high in fat, as well as some processed foods in the grains group.  Fat, whether from plant or animal sources, contains more than twice the number of calories of an equal amount of carbohydrate or protein, so, keep that in mind, so that you tailor your diet to provide no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat.  Cutting back on fat can help you consume fewer calories.

Saturated fats contain both saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fatty acids.  Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat, thus, be mindful that most bakery products are great sources of saturated fats, so limit yourself to just occasional treats.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oils while polyunsaturated fats consist of other vegetable oils, nuts and high-fat fish.  Both of these types of unsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

Dietary cholesterol

Cholesterol comes from animal sources such as egg yolks, meat (especially organ meats such as liver), poultry, fish, and higher-fat milk products.  Unfortunately, many of these foods are also high in saturated fats, so it behooves you to choose foods with less cholesterol and saturated fat to help keep your blood-cholesterol levels in check and your blood pressure low.

Watch what you eat, this will make a world of difference in how you look and feel.  Follow the above suggestions, and, combined with an exercise regimen, smaller portions, less sodium, sugar and fat – you’ll be in top notch shape the rest of your life.