The key to eating well is to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from each of the Five Food Groups, which include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Carbohydrates or starch
Fruits and vegetables
It is recommended to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables. They contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to maintain body health and prevent diseases. They are rich in fiber, help in digestion, and maintain gut health. They are low in fat and hence help with hunger pangs without increasing calorie consumption.
Tips to get five portions of fruits and vegetables in a day:
- Having a banana or an apple with breakfast or adding chopped fruits to cereals or smoothies
- Having a piece of fruit as a mid-morning snack
- Having a bowl of salad or vegetable soup
- Snacking on raw carrots, cucumbers, or celery
- Filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables during meals
- Consuming fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies and juices, which are fresh and sugar-free
- Adding small amounts of dried fruits such as raisins and apricots to meals
Dairy and dairy alternatives are good sources of proteins and vitamins. They also contain calcium, which is beneficial for bone health. Semi-skimmed, skimmed, and 1% fat milk contain less fat than full-fat milk while still providing sufficient proteins, vitamins, and calcium. Dairy-free milk alternatives such as soya milk and other nut milks can be consumed by those with dietary restrictions.
Starch and carbohydrates
Examples of starchy foods are potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta. Starch is required to fuel the body and is a good source of energy. Whole carbohydrates contain essential fiber, calcium, iron, and other vitamins.
Wholegrain foods usually contain more fiber and nutrients. They take longer time to digest and hence help to remain full for a longer time, thus reducing food consumption. Examples of whole grains are brown rice, whole wheat pasta, brown bread, etc. Whole grains must be consumed with caution by those who have digestion problems.
This food group is an important component of many meals, culture and lifestyles and a wide variety of foods are eaten from this food group.
- Pulses: Pulses are foods such as beans, peas, and lentils. They’re a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are low in fat. Pulses are good for bulking up dishes such as soups and gravies. They add flavor and texture and can replace meat.
- Other vegetable proteins: Other vegetable-based sources of proteins include tofu, bean curd, and Quorn. They are full of proteins, low in fat, and can be used in place of meat in most recipes.
- Fish: Fish is rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Oil-rich fish such as salmon contain vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the heart, skin, nails, memory, and digestion and are healthy and a good source of vitamins A and D. Oil-rich fish can sometimes contain small amount of pollutants that can accumulate in the body, so it is advised not to eat more than four portions of oil-rich fish per week. White fish such as haddock and cod are low in fat and contain important vitamins and minerals. Shark, swordfish, and marlin may contain high levels of mercury. Hence, it should not be consumed more than once a week.
- Eggs: Eggs are a good source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Egg dishes are quick to make and healthy, provided too much oil or salt is not used while cooking.
- Meat: Meat is rich in proteins, vitamins (especially vitamin B12), and minerals. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal meat and milk. Red (beef, lamb, and pork) and processed meat increase the risk of colon cancer. Some types of meat contain high unsaturated fats that increase the cholesterol levels in the body, affecting the heart and brain. Choosing lean cut meats and reducing meat consumption replacing with other sources of protein is recommended.
- Fats: Some unsaturated fats such as plant-based and olive oil are recommended because they can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart diseases.
How do I plan my meals?
The US government (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA]) developed a help guide called MyPlate for adults and children to have a healthy, balanced diet. The MyPlate model shows the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains/starch, and dairy) in a proportion setting, making it easier to understand the types of food and quantity to include in each meal. MyPlate visually represents what an ideal meal should look like, without too many dietary restrictions.
How does MyPlate work?
The plate is divided into four unequal sections to represent the five main food groups.
Vegetables make up the largest portion on the plate, which is 40%, followed by grains, which is 30%. Fruits make up 10% of the plate, and proteins make up 20%. Fruits and vegetables fill half the plate, whereas proteins and grains fill the other half. Small amount of dairy in a glass (e.g. milk) or cup (e.g. yogurt) is incorporated in the diet.
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