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The Healthy Plate

Making informed food choices and being physically active can help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health. An essential part of getting a balanced nutrition is to understand what nutrients are present in the food we eat.

Choose a Food Group

There are five basic groups of foods that are the building blocks for a healthy plate. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl and the right amounts to eat.

FruitsVegetables | Grains | Proteins | Dairy | Oils

 


Fruits

Any fruit or 100% juice is part of the Fruit Group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, chopped, or puree.

The amount of fruits you need daily will depend on age, sex, and level of physical activity. Recommended daily amounts are shown below.

Daily Recommendations for Fruits
Women 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
  51+  years old
2 cups
1 ½ cups
1 ½ cups
Men 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
  51+  years old
2 cups
2 cups
2 cups

In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group.

Before eating or preparing rinse fruits under clean running water, rub them briskly with your hands to remove dirt and surface microorganisms. Dry with clean cloth or paper towel and enjoy. Do the same if you eat raw vegetables.


Vegetables

Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.

Daily Recommendations for Vegetables
Women 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
  51+  years old
2 ½ cups
2 ½ cups
2 cups
Men 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
  51+  years old
3 cups
3 cups
2 ½ cups

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Grains

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ? the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Examples include:

  • whole-wheat flour
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • oatmeal
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.

Some examples of refined grain products are:

  • white flour
  • de-germed cornmeal
  • white bread
  • white rice

Daily Recommendations for Grains
Daily Recommendation Daily Minimum Amount of Whole Grains
Women 19-30 years
31-50 years 
51+  years
6 ounce equivalents
6 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
3 ounce equivalents
3 ounce equivalents
3 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years
31-50 years
51+  years
8 ounce equivalents
7 ounce equivalents
6 ounce equivalents
4 ounce equivalents
3 ½ ounce equivalents
3 ounce equivalents

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Proteins

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group.

Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Young children need less, depending on their age and calorie needs. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.  

Daily Recommendations for Proteins
Women 19-30 years
31-50 years 
51+  years
5 ½ ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years
31-50 years
51+  years
6 ½ ounce equivalents
6 ounce equivalents
5 ½ ounce equivalents

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Dairy

All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group.

Daily Recommendations for Dairy
Women 19-30 years
31-50 years 
51+  years
3 cups
3 cups
3 cups 
Men 19-30 years
31-50 years
51+  years
3 cups
3 cups
3 cups

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Oils

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Therefore, oils are included in USDA food patterns. 

Some commonly eaten oils include:

  • canola oil
  • corn oil
  • cottonseed oil
  • olive oil
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • sunflower oil

Some oils are used mainly as flavorings, such as walnut oil and sesame oil. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, like:

  • nuts
  • olives
  • some fish
  • avocados

Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no plant foods contain cholesterol.

A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation.

Some common fats are:

  • butter
  • milk fat
  • beef fat (tallow, suet)
  • chicken fat
  • pork fat (lard)
  • stick margarine
  • shortening
  • partially hydrogenated oil

Current dietary guidelines recommend that Americans:

  • Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats.
  • Replace solid fats with oils when possible.
  • Limit foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fatty acids (such as hydrogenated oils), and keep total trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Eat fewer than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.
  • Reduce intake of calories from solid fats.

Daily Recommendations for Oils
Women 19-30 years
31-50 years 
51+  years
6 teaspoons
5 teaspoons
5 teaspoons
Men 19-30 years
31-50 years
51+  years
7 teaspoons
6 teaspoons
6 teaspoons

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More Information on Healthy Nutrition:

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Last updated: 4/2/2014 5:36:56 PM