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Food Smarts: Food Groups and Pyramids
The Food Pyramid

Topics on
Food Smarts:
What's In You?
The Food Pyramid
Serving Size Surprises
Understanding Food
    Labels
The Choices Are
    Yours
Myths And Facts
Real World Tips
    and Tricks
Family Eating Habits
From the Mentors
All foods are not created equal. A T-bone steak tastes nothing like a bran muffin, and the two foods do totally different things to your body. If you ate just steaks, three meals a day, you'd be a very unhealthy person (unless you're a wolf-kid). Eating only muffins morning, noon, and night would be almost as bad (unless you're the Muffin Man, who lives in Drury Lane).

The truth is that your body needs a variety of foods -- a little bit o' this and a little bit o' that -- to stay healthy, happy, and strong. In that past, doctors and nutritionists (food experts) divided everything into what they called "The Four Food Groups." These were the Bread Group, the Dairy Group, the Fruit and Vegetable Group, and the Meat Group. The idea was that we should choose equally between them, making sure we got a little from each group during the day in order to eat a "balanced diet."

Since then, we've learned a lot more about food. The experts saw that it was healthier to choose more breads, fruits and vegetables, and fewer meats and dairy products. All of these groups are still important, of course, but it's just as important to know how much to eat from each group. These ideas led to a new guide which is called "My Pyramid."

The MyPyramid Plan
The new MyPyramid uses the same basic food groups, but it arranges them in a way that shows which ones we should be eating more of, and which we should eat less of:

  • The pyramid is made up of vertical stripes. The widest sections are filled with the foods we should get plenty of every day, while the narrower sections represent foods we should eat less of.

  • From left to right, the major food pyramid sections are: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk, and Meat & Beans.

There is also a very, very thin stripe that represents Fats & Oils and "Discretionary Calories" (sweets).

Check out an interactive guide to the MyPyramid plan at http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/index.html.

Let's take a closer look-

The Grains Group
You know it as:
Breads, bagels, muffins, cereal, rice, and pasta

What's good about it:

  • Carbohydrates, which our bodies like to burn as fuel, so they work as a source of quick energy.
  • Iron, which is good for our blood.
  • B vitamins, which we need for energy, growth, and our brains.
  • Thiamin (Vitamin B1), which strengthens the nervous system.

How much you should eat: 6 ounces every day


The Vegetable Group
You know it as:
Carrots, broccoli, green beans, peas, lettuce, celery, etc.

What's good about it:

  • Vitamin C helps us absorb iron and is important for healthy teeth and gums.
  • Vitamin A keeps our skin and hair healthy, and helps with growth and eyesight.
  • Vitamin B6 also helps us grow and improve our brain function.
  • Fiber helps food move through our digestive systems, is good for our hearts, and may help prevent heart disease and cancer.

How much you should eat: 2 to 2.5 cups every day


The Fruit Group
You know it as:
Apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples, peaches, melons, grapes, etc.

What's good about it:

  • Vitamin C helps us absorb iron and is important for healthy teeth and gums.
  • Vitamin A keeps our skin and hair healthy, and helps with growth and eyesight.
  • Potassium helps us work our muscles.
  • Fiber helps food move through our digestive systems, is good for our hearts, and may help prevent heart disease and cancer. (Keep in mind that fiber is only in whole fruit, not fruit juice.)
  • Carbohydrates, which our bodies like to burn as fuel, so they work as a source of quick energy.

How much you should eat: 1.5 to 2 cups every day


The Milk Group
You know it as:
Milk, cheeses, yogurt, etc.

What's good about it:

  • Calcium, which is important for strong teeth and bones.
  • Protein helps us grow and repair body tissues when they need it.
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) is good for energy and body tissue growth.
  • Potassium helps us work our muscles.
  • Vitamin D helps build strong bones (this vitamin is added to some milk, but isn't found in all dairy foods).

How much you should eat: 3 cups every day


The Meat and Beans Group
You know it as:
Red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and dry beans

What's good about it:

  • Protein helps us grow and repair body tissues when they need it.
  • Iron is good for your blood.
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) helps convert food to energy.
  • Vitamin B6 helps us grow and improve our brain function.
  • Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells.
  • Zinc is good for growth and bones, eyes, skin, hair, and nails.

How much you should eat: 5 to 5.5 ounces every day


Fats, Oils and Sweets
You know them as:
Candy, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, fatty meats (like bacon or hamburgers), deep-fried anything (like doughnuts and French fries), and fatty sauces (like Ranch dressing and mayonnaise).

What's good about them:
Not much! Fats and natural sugars are good for us in small amounts, but the truth is that our bodies get enough of them in all the other foods we eat. Too much of this stuff is what can make us overweight and develop health problems, so that's why it's at the top of the pyramid, reminding us to eat very little of it. We'll talk more about how to cut down on fats, oils, and sweets in Real World Tips and Tricks.

REMEMBER:
The recommended food amounts in this section are approximate, and are only for pre-teens, not for children, high-schoolers, or adults. The true amount of food you should eat from each pyramid group depends on your age, gender, and the amount of exercise you get each day. To get a more accurate eating plan, go to www.mypyramid.gov.

Up next:
Serving Size Surprises

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