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Food Groups

22. 5. 2008


Dieting Common Sense Part 2

Food Groups

The essential food groups

‘Food groups’ refers to a classification method for categorizing the various foods that we consume on a daily basis based on the nutritional properties of these types of foods. Eating a certain amount of food from each of the categories is recommended as it is one of the most natural ways in which you can begin to achieve a healthy lifestyle through diet.


The words ‘oil’, ‘fat’ and ‘lipids’ all refer to fats. ‘Oil’ refers to fats that are liquid at room temperature, while ‘fats’ refer to fats that are solid at normal room temperature. ‘Lipids’ refer to both ‘fats’ and ‘oils’. Despite the poor image that fats generally have, they are nevertheless an important part of the human diet. Fats and lipids are broken down in our body by the enzyme lipase in the pancreas. Edible animal fats include lard, fish oil, butter and ghee. These are obtained from the fats in milk, meat or from the fats stored under the skin of animals.

Edible plant fats include peanut, Soya bean, sun flower, sesame, coconut, olive and vegetable oils. Margarine and vegetable shortening which are derived from these oils are nowadays generally used for baking.


In the broadest definition, meat is animal tissue that is used as food, although technically it could more accurately be described as skeletal muscle and associated fat. It could also refer to non-muscle organs such as the lungs, liver, skin, brains, bone marrow and kidneys.


In almost all mammals, the young get their milk needs met through breastfeeding. Humans keep consuming milk beyond infancy. They also use the milk of other animals (cows in particular) as a food product. For many thousands of years, cow’s milk has been processed into dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. With the development of industrial science we now have casein, whey protein, lactose, condensed milk and powdered milk products.


‘Vegetables’ is a generic term which generally refers to that part of a wide range of plants which is edible. All parts of herbaceous plants eaten by humans, whole or in part, are considered vegetables.

Bread and Grains

Bread is the staple food of millions across the world. It may be prepared by baking, steaming or frying. The main ingredients are flour and water, whilst salt, yeast and some form of fat are also commonly used. There

are many kinds of breads that contain things such as milk, sugar, egg, spice, fruit, vegetables, nuts or even seeds. Grain is however the principle ingredient of most kinds of bread.

The bread, cereal, rice & pasta group

This group includes grain products and other foods derived from cereal crops. Cereals, breads, pastas, crackers, and rice fall under this food category. Grains supply us with food energy by way of starch. They are also a source of protein. Whole grains contain important dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, and other important nutrients. Milled grains are however generally more palatable but they also have many nutrients removed in the milling process and are therefore not as highly

recommended as whole grains. Whole grains can be found in oatmeal, brown rice, grits, corn tortillas and whole wheat bread.

Between six and eleven servings of grain products are recommended per day to maintain a healthy diet.

The vegetable group

A vegetable is that part of a plant which is consumed by humans. It is generally savory (not sweet) and differentiated from grains, fruits, nuts, spices and herbs. For example, the stem, root and flower parts of a plant may also be eaten as vegetable. Vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals. However, different vegetables contain different kinds of vitamins and minerals, so it is crucial to eat a wide variety of vegetables. For example, green vegetables typically contain a large amount of vitamin C, dark orange and dark green vegetables are high in vitamin A content, whereas bushy vegetables like broccoli and related plants contain iron and calcium. Vegetables are very low in fat and calories but the method of cooking can add fat and calories. Vegetables may be consumed fresh, frozen, canned, or made into juices.

Between three and five servings of vegetables are recommended in our daily dietary intake.

The fruit group

With reference to food, rather than the botanical term, fruits are the sweet-tasting seed-bearing parts of plants, or sometimes they are the sweet parts of plants which do not bear seeds. The fruit group includes oranges, apples, bananas, berries, grapes and plums, and the majority of fruits are low in calories and fat as well as being a primary source of natural sugars, fiber and vitamins. The processing of fruits for canning or making into juices unfortunately often adds purified sugars and removes essential nutrient. It is therefore more beneficial to consume fresh fruit or canned fruit packed in juice rather than syrup. The fruit food group is usually combined with the vegetable food group. The fruits may be fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or made into juice.

It is recommended that we consume between eight and ten servings of fruit in a day.

The milk, yogurt and cheese group

Dairy products are derived from the milk of mammals, most commonly from the milk of cattle but not always. This group includes milk, cheese and yogurt. Dairy products are the best source for the mineral calcium. They also provide you with protein, phosphorus, vitamin A, and in the case of fortified milk, vitamin D, as well. However, many dairy products are very high in fat as well, and this is why skimmed products are available as a healthier alternative.

The ideal daily intake of the milk, yogurt and cheese group for adults is two to three servings.

The meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs & nuts group

Since many of the parts of many types of animals are edible, there is a vast variety of meats available for our consumption. Meat has long been recognized as a primary source of dietary protein, as well as providing a good percentage of your daily iron, zinc, and vitamin B requirements. The different kinds of meats include beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tuna, and shrimp, etc.

Many of the same nutrients that are found in meat can also be found in foods such as eggs, dry beans, and nuts. This is the reason that such foods are in the same category as meats and in fact, they are often treated as viable meat alternatives. They include tofu and products that resemble meat or fish but are actually made from soy, eggs and cheese.

Although meats are a potent source of energy and nutrients, they are often quite high in fat and cholesterol as well as sodium. However, something as simple as trimming off fatty tissue can go a long way towards reducing the negative effects of meat.

It is recommended that we consume two to three servings of meat or meat alternatives in a day.

The fats, oils and sweets group

The fats, oils, and sweets group is right at the top of the food pyramid because it is the smallest section. This means that while they do have nutritional value, they should be consumed minimally.


Apart from the food groups mentioned, our body also needs essential nutrients. These should be contained in the food that we eat. In fact, the reason why foods are split into food groups represented in the pyramid is to try to ensure that you give your body these essential nutrients.

Nutrients that are needed in relatively large quantities are called macronutrients. Those nutrients that are needed in relatively small quantities are called micronutrients. There are seven main kinds of nutrients that your body needs - those are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. It is important to consume these seven nutrients on a daily basis to build and maintain health. According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization, the real challenge in developing countries is not that of starvation but far more commonly malnutrition, which is a deficiency of nutrients in the body

caused by poor diet. This means that the body is unable to maintain healthy growth and efficient vital functions.

An adequate supply of the right kinds of nutrients is a crucial part of this discussion of weight loss. They are primarily responsible for the functions that your body performs in order to maintain a healthy weight, control weight and regulate weight loss.

When these nutrients are missing from your diet, these bodily functions cannot be performed as they should be by your metabolism and this often results in unwanted weight gain. By taking nutritional supplements, you can therefore ensure that your body has the required amounts of the nutrients that are so vital if your body is to perform to the optimum level and maintain a healthy weight balance. This aids the process of weight loss and then some vitamins and minerals help even further by encouraging further weight loss.


Carbohydrates may be classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides depending on the number of sugar units they contain. Monosaccharides contains one sugar unit, disaccharides contain two, and polysaccharides three or more. The difference between these kinds of carbohydrates is important to nutritionists since complex carbohydrates take longer to metabolize. This is because their sugar units are processed one-by-one off the ends of the chains of which they are made up. Simple carbohydrates are metabolized much more quickly and raise blood sugar levels more rapidly resulting in rapid increases in blood insulin levels.

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are simple sugars that are found in refined sugars, like white sugar. But they are also found in healthier options such as milk or fruit, which also contain vitamins, fiber, and important nutrients like calcium. Polysaccharides, also known as complex sugars, include the carbohydrates that are also known as starches. Starches include grain products including bread, crackers, pasta, and rice.

Some complex sugars are better health choices than others. Refined grains like white flour and white rice which have been processed are not beneficial because much of the nutrients and fibers that have been removed during the refining process. Unrefined grains still contain these vitamins and minerals. Unrefined grains are also very rich in fiber, which helps the digestive system work well, and helps us feel full so we are less likely to over-eat.

When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into simple sugars. These sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream, and as

the sugar level rises in your body the pancreas creates and releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is what is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells of the body where the sugar can be used as a source of energy. In the case of simple sugars, this process takes place very quickly and you are more likely to feel hungry again soon. In the case of complex sugars the process takes much longer and so these kinds of carbohydrates give energy for a longer period of time.


Protein is made up of amino acids. These are the body’s structural (muscles, skin, hair etc.) materials. Our organs and immune system are made up mostly of protein. The body needs amino acids to produce new body protein and to replace damaged proteins that are lost in the urine. Many foods contain protein but the best sources of protein are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes such as peas and beans. Our body uses the protein we consume to make lots of specialized protein molecules that have specific jobs. For example, our body uses protein to make hemoglobin – the red cells in the blood. Other proteins are used to build cardiac muscle, for example.

The digestive juices in the stomach and intestine break down the proteins in the food matter that we consume into the basic constituent units, which are the amino acids. These amino acids are then used to make the human proteins that our body needs to maintain our muscles, bones, and blood and body organs. There are many different kinds of proteins but there are twenty two essential for your health. Thirteen of these are produced by the body, whilst the rest are obtained from the food we consume. Protein from animal sources like meat and milk are considered to be complete proteins because they contain all the nine essential nine amino acids that our body cannot make for itself. However, for people who do not take meat or milk products, it is still possible to have all the essential amino acids as they can consume a wide variety of vegetables that are rich in protein.


Fats are made up of fatty acids. Most fatty acids are non-essential, which means that the body can produce them as and when they are needed. However, at least two fatty acids are essential and must be consumed in the diet. These are omega-3 and omega-6. Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods and fish and these are good for the heart. The best of the unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, albacore tuna, and salmon.


A vitamin is a nutrient that is required in tiny amounts and is essential for smooth metabolic reactions to take place in your body. Most of

these vitamins cannot be produced by the body, and therefore they must be obtained from your diet. The benefit gained from eating certain types of food was discovered long before vitamins were discovered. For example, the ancient Egyptians discovered that to cure night blindness, the patient should be fed liver. Today we know that night blindness is caused by a lack of Vitamin A and the liver has high quantities of Vitamin A.

Vitamins are essential for the normal growth and development of human beings.

Vitamin deficiencies may be primary or secondary. A primary deficiency is when you do not get enough vitamins through your diet whilst a secondary deficiency is when an underlying disorder prevents or limits the absorption of the vitamin into your body. This could be due to you making damaging lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive alcohol or certain medications that could interfere with the vitamin working as usual.

The best way to maintain a healthy flow of vitamins in your body is to eat a wide variety of foods. This ensures that you will never suffer from primary vitamin deficiency. On the other hand, a restrictive diet that is generally associated with weight loss can cause prolonged vitamin deficits and these can lead to painful and even perhaps deadly diseases. Therefore, it is crucial that you increase your intake of vitamins when trying to lose weight.

It is also important to realize that human bodies are unable to store most vitamins and that you must therefore consume vitamins on a regular basis to avoid deficiency. Dietary supplements containing vitamins are used to ensure that the required amounts of nutrients are obtained on a daily basis, if the right amounts of the nutrients cannot be obtained through a varied diet.


Minerals or dietary minerals are chemical elements that our body needs, apart from the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. There are two main kinds of dietary minerals that are known as macro minerals and trace minerals.

In humans, macro minerals are also known the dietary bulk minerals. They include the following:

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]-->Calcium - needed for the maintenance of muscle and digestive system health, building bone, neutralizing acidity, clearing toxins and helping the blood stream;

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]-->Chlorine;

<!--[endif]--> Magnesium - needed for building bones and increasing body flexibility;

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]-->Potassium - needed for energy processing;

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]-->Sodium; and

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]-->Sulphur - needed for essential amino acids and many kinds of proteins and those parts of the body that need protein – the skin, hair, nails, liver and the pancreas.
Trace minerals include cobalt, iron, copper, chromium and iodine. Iodine is required in larger quantities than the other trace minerals.


Dietary fibers are the indigestible portion of plants eaten as food that move the food through your digestive system. They absorb water thus making digestion and ultimately defecation easier. Dietary fiber is made up of non-starch polysaccharides such as cellulose. Dietary fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. On a day to day basis, fiber provides the bulk of your intestinal contents.


More than 70% of the mass in the human body that is not fat is made up of water. To function well, our body needs anywhere between one and seven liters of water a day to avoid dehydration. The amount needed by each person depends on the level of physical activity, temperature, humidity and other external factors. With increased exertion and exposure to heat, the amount of water lost will increase and you will need to increase the amount of daily fluid intake. Usually around 20% of the water intake comes from food, while the rest will come from drinking water and other kinds of beverages including caffeinated ones. Water is lost from the body through feces, sweating and the exhalation of water vapor in your breath.


An antioxidant is a molecule that can slow down or prevent the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals, which start chain reactions that damage other cells. Some antioxidants are produced by the body and those that the body cannot produce can only be obtained through the diet from direct sources (Vitamins C, A and K) or produced by the body from other compounds (Beta-carotene converted to Vitamin A by the body, Vitamin D from cholesterol by sunlight).


Phytochemicals are a relatively new subject of interest to those who study human health. These are antioxidant nutrients found in edible

plants, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. They are also found in high quantities in organisms such as seafood, algae and fungi such as edible mushrooms. One of the main classes of phytochemicals are polyphenol antioxidants, which have been proven to provide health benefits to the cardiovascular system and the immune system.

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