What’s in for 2024? Getting back to the basics of building a balanced and healthy diet. So let’s start at the beginning. 

I bet if you tried to think of the food groups right now, you’d miss one or add a few extras (go ahead, we’ll wait). Let’s face it – they’re easy to forget, so here’s a quick recap: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. 

And don’t worry, we made up a few acronyms so you’ll never forget them again: 

Don’t eVer Forget Good Pizza  

Did Frank Get Vegan Pizza? 

Drive to Get Vick’s Favorite Pizza. 

Yes, they’re all pizza related.  

But now that we know the food groups, let’s take a closer look at just what we should be eating to fulfill them, according to the USDA. 

Grain

Foods included in the grains group are wheat, rice, oats, bread, breakfast cereals, tortillas, rice, oatmeal, among others. 

There are two subgroups of grains: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains are just that, they’re made with 100% whole grain. Refined grains, on the other hand, are milled to have a finer texture and end up losing much of the nutrients. Check the label to make sure the refined grains you’re choosing are “enriched,” meaning certain B vitamins have been added back in, but remember that even enriched refined grains are still missing fiber. The USDA recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains. 

Benefits: the B vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates, playing a key role in the body’s metabolism. 

Fruits

Both fruits and 100% fruit juice are counted in the fruit food group. If you’re going to drink 100% fruit juice, make sure it actually is 100% and doesn’t have added sugars or chemicals. No matter the juice choice, the USDA recommends getting at least half of your intake of fruit from whole fruits as opposed to 100% fruit juice. 

Benefits: fruits are packed with many nutrients we don’t get enough of, like potassium, fiber and vitamin C

Vegetables

Similar to fruits, all vegetables as well as 100% vegetable juice are included in the vegetable food group. Unlike fruits, vegetables have 5 subgroups: dark green; red and orange; beans, peas and lentils; starchy; other vegetables. They’re separated into these groups by the nutrients they provide. 

Benefits: many vegetables, like leafy greens and yellow vegetables, contain Vitamin A which keeps the eyes and skin healthy and protects against infection. 

Protein 

The protein food group is a little more complicated than the rest of the groups. It includes seafood; meat, poultry and eggs; beans, peas and lentils; and nuts, seeds and soy products. And each category has its own guidelines. For meat and poultry, go lean or low-fat (think pork loin and skinless chicken breasts). And for seafood, you want options higher in omega-3s and lower in methylmercury (think salmon and anchovies). 

The USDA recommends eating a variety of protein foods that encompass more than one of these subcategories. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can still get your proteins from the beans, peas and lentils and nuts, seeds and soy subgroups. 

Benefits: eating foods from the beans, peas and lentils, and nuts, seeds and soy subgroups helps limit the amount of sodium and saturated fats you get from processed meat and poultry.

Dairy

The dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk and fortified soy milk and yogurt. It doesn’t include foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content (like cream cheese, sour cream, butter). 

Benefits: dairy provides our bodies with calcium, which can help increase bone strength. 

Your plate

The last piece of our nutrition foundation is building our plate. While specific amounts will vary with age, height, sex and physical activity, the general rule of thumb is to have half your plate made up of fruits and vegetables (heavier on the vegetables) and the other half made up of grains and protein (an even split). Dairy can be one cup on the side.

January 2024
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