Daily Food Guide

You need more than 40 different nutrients for good health. Essential nutrients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids from protein, certain fatty acids from fat, and sources of calories (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). These nutrients should come from a variety of foods, not from a few highly fortified foods or supplements. Any food that supplies calories and nutrients can be part of a nutritious diet. The content of the total diet over a day or more is what counts.

Many foods are good sources of several nutrients. For example, vegetables and fruits are important for vitamins A and C, folic acid, minerals, and fiber. Breads and cereals supply B vitamins, iron, and protein; whole-grain types are also good sources of fiber. Milk provides protein, B vitamins, vitamins A and D, calcium, and phosphorus. Meat, poultry, and fish provide protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

No single food can supply all nutrients in the amounts you need. For example, milk supplies calcium but little iron; meat supplies iron but little calcium. To have a nutritious diet, you must eat a variety of foods.

One way to assure variety -- and with it, an enjoyable and nutritious diet -- is to choose foods each day from five major food groups. Individuals who do not eat foods from one or more of the food groups may want to contact a dietitian for help in planning how to meet nutritional needs.

A daily food guide

Eat a variety of foods daily, choosing different foods from each group. Most people should have at least the lower number of servings suggested from each food group. Some their body size and activity level. Young children should have a variety of foods but may need small servings.

Food Group

Suggested Servngs
Vegetables 3-5 servings
Fruits 2-4 servings
Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta 6-11 servings
Milk, yogurt, and cheese 2-3 servings
Meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts 2-3 servings

People who are inactive or are trying to lose weight may eat less food. They need to take special care to choose lower calorie, nutrient-rich foods from the five major food groups. They also need to eat less of foods high in calories and low in essential nutrients, such as fats and oils, sugars, and alcoholic beverages.

Diets of some groups of people are notably low in some nutrients. Many women and adolescent girls need to eat more calcium-rich foods, such as milk and milk products, to get the calcium they need for healthy bones throughout life. Young children, teenage girls and women of childbearing age must take care to eat enough iron-rich foods such as lean meats; dry beans; and whole-grain and iron-enriched breads, cereals, and other grain products.

Supplements of some nutrients taken regularly in large amounts can be harmful. Vitamin and mineral supplements at or below the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) are safe, but are rarely needed if you eat a variety of foods. Here are exceptions in which your doctor may recommend a supplement:

Pregnant women often need an iron supplement. Some other women in their childbearing years may also need an iron supplement to help replace iron lost in menstrual bleeding.

Certain women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need a supplement to meet their increased requirements for some nutrients.

People who are unable to be active and eat little food may need supplements,

People, especially older people, who take medicines that interact with nutrients may need supplements.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture's Food Guide.

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