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Guide to the food groups

Every time we take a bite, the food we put in our mouth can be divided into five main food groups. Foods are divided into groups based on the nutritional properties and biological classifications they share. Here we delve into the five food groups, the foods that make them up and the nutritional value they provide.

The food groups

The five food groups explained:

Fruit and vegetables

Whether it's bananas, apples, pears, cabbage or a salad, fruit and vegetables are a rich source of vital vitamins and minerals. Evidence shows that people who consume at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day lower their risk of stroke heart disease and even some cancers.

Meat, fish and proteins

Protein is necessary for growth and repair. Meat, fish and other proteins such as eggs and pulses contain a range of vital vitamins and minerals. Meat contains iron, zinc and B vitamins. Cut down on fat by choosing lean cuts of meat and eating poultry without its skin. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and eggs and pulses (such as nuts, pulses and seeds) contain lots of fibre.

Starchy foods

Starchy foods provide energy and vital nutrients such as fibre and should make up one third of the food we eat. Starchy foods include bread, potatoes and pasta. Opt for wholegrain or wholemeal varieties, as these contain more vitamins, minerals and fibre than their white equivalents.

Milk and dairy

Also a good source of protein, diary products contain calcium, which is vital for strong bones. Choose low-fat milks, yoghurts, cheeses or cottage cheese to maintain a low fat diet.

Fat and sugar

In moderation fats and sugar are fine, but too much can lead to weight gain and eventually obesity. With this comes a raft of potential health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Very young children need fat for energy but as they grow older saturated or 'bad' fat, such as that found in butter, cheese, sausages, cakes and biscuits, should be kept to a minimum.

Unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, oily fish and olive oils, provide essential fatty acids and can lower cholesterol. It's not necessary to avoid naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and milk, but foods with added sugar, such as fizzy drinks, chocolate and pastries should be eaten only in moderation.

A healthy diet

It can be hard to maintain a healthy diet without knowledge and discipline. Many of us eat too much fat and sugar and too little fruit, vegetables and fibre. By choosing healthy foods from each of the food groups, it's easier to work out how to maximise the nutritional value of what we eat.

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