Everyone has heard about the importance of following a balanced diet, but how do you know what the right balance is? The goal of a balanced diet is to consume an appropriate amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Food can be divided into food groups according to its calorie and nutrient content. This means that you can consume any food within a food group and get a similar amount of nutrients. The amount of calories will depend on the amount that you consume.
Food guides have been categorizing foods into food groups since 1916 and have undergone many changes:
- 1916 Caroline Hunt buying guide: five food groups were milk and meat; cereals; vegetables and fruits; fats and fat foods; and sugars and sugary foods
- 1930’s H.K. Stiebeling buying guide: 12 food groups were milk; lean meat, poultry and fish; dry mature beans, peas, and nuts; eggs; flours and cereals; leafy green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and sweet potatoes; other vegetables and fruit; tomatoes and citrus; butter; other fats; and sugars
- 1940’s Basic Seven foundation diet: seven food groups were milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans, peas and nuts; bread, flour, and cereals; leafy green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and other fruit and vegetables; citrus, tomato, cabbage, and salad greens; and butter-fortified margarine
- 1956-1970’s Basic Four foundation diet: milk group; meat group; bread and cereal; and vegetable-fruit group
- 1979 Hassle-Free foundation diet: five food groups were milk-cheese group; meat, poultry, fish, and beans group; bread-cereal group; vegetable-fruit group; and fats, sweets, and alcohol group
- 1984 to present Food Guide Pyramid: six food groups were milk, yogurt, and cheese; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dry beans, and nuts; breads, cereals, rice, and pasta; vegetables; fruit; and fats, oils, and sweets
Another feature of the MyPyramid Plan is the food-gallery section. This section provides images of the serving sizes of foods in each of the food groups. Many people complain about serving sizes being too small. Serving size is a standard unit of measurement, not the amount that you are supposed to consume. The amount, or number of servings that you consume, is your portion. For example, if the serving size for pasta is ½ cup and you consume 2 cups, that means that your portion is 2 cups and you consumed 4 servings.
The food guides have been separating food into food groups for nearly a century. The current Food Guide Pyramid still emphasizes eating a balanced diet with foods from each of the food groups, but with today’s version of the plan, you can get a personalized plan instead of just general recommendations. This is everyone’s chance to learn how to eat a well-balanced diet.
The next time that you are about to decide what to eat remember that “it’s what’s inside that counts.” You can take a look inside by reading what is on the outside, or the food label. The food label, or nutrition facts label, is your best source of information for what you are feeding your body. Before you can use it, you have to know how to read it, so let’s “digest” the food label.
The food label provides information about
- serving size,
- calories from fat,
- total fat,
- saturated fat,
- monounsaturated fat,
- polyunsaturated fat,
- trans fat,
- total carbohydrates,
- dietary fiber,
- vitamins, and
The most important thing to read on the food label is the very first line. The serving size that is listed is what all of the rest of the information is based upon. For example, if you were looking at a label for cookies and the serving size was two cookies, all of the nutrition information on the label would be based on the consumption of two cookies. When you consume more than two cookies, you need to increase the numbers based on how many servings you consume. For example, if there are 100 calories in two cookies, and you consume six cookies, you would be consuming 300 calories.
The information listed below the serving size is listed in grams and percentages. You will learn how to interpret the grams for each nutrient later on in the article. In an attempt to help people determine if the food will reach their nutritional needs, the FDA developed a set of generic standards called Daily Values. You will only find Daily Values listed on food labels. The standard DRIs could not be used because they vary by gender and age, so they are too specific for a food label. The limitation of the Daily Values is that they are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This means that the percentages are only relevant to someone who is consuming 2,000 calories. For everyone else, these percentages will either be too high or too low. For this reason, it’s best to focus on grams and ingredients.