Understanding the basics of nutrition is key if you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle and choose nutritious foods. It can’t get any more basic than knowing the foundation of eating healthy – the food groups.

Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, there are five basic food groups that illustrate the building blocks for a healthy diet. Here’s the lowdown:

Vegetables

Vegetables

The first of the food groups is vegetables. You can eat frozen, fresh, canned or dried veggies and prepare them any way you choose. A variety of dark green, red and orange vegetables, along with beans and peas, contain some of the largest amounts of nutrients. Examples include broccoli, carrots, collards, green beans, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Any 100 percent vegetable juice also counts in this group. The amount of vegetables needed depends on your age, sex and physical activity, but for adult women and men, 2½ to 3 cups is recommended daily.

Fruits

Fruits

You can reach your daily serving of fruits the same way as vegetables, by eating them fresh, canned, frozen or dried, and in any preparation you like. Examples in this group include apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, melons, peaches, strawberries and 100 percent fruit juice. Adult men and women should eat between 1½ to 2 cups per day.

Grains

Grains

There are two types of grains in this food group – whole grains and refined grains. At least half of all grains you eat should be whole, and include foods like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat cereal, oatmeal and brown rice. Refined grains are foods like white bread, white rice, flour tortillas and most noodles. Adult men and women who get less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per day should consume between 3 to 4 ounces per day. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying in daily calorie needs.

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Dairy

Milk and Dairy

This group’s main foods are fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, but all types of milk are included in this category. These are foods like cheeses, milk, yogurt, along with lactose-free or soy beverages. Foods like butter, cream, sour cream and cream cheese are included because they are made from milk, but it’s important to note that they have a lower calcium content. Three cups of dairy per day are recommended for adult men and women.

Protein Foods

Protein

The final food group includes foods that are high in protein, like lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds. Adult men and women who get less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per day should consume between 5-6 ounces per day. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying in daily calorie needs. Adults are also recommended to eat at least 8 ounces of seafood each week.

Check here for more on nutrition basics. 

Want to test your knowledge of the basic food groups? Head over to My American Farm, developed by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and play Finders Keepers, a game based around the food groups.

sources: cdc.gov, choosemyplate.gov

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