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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nutrition 101: The Basics

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Happy National Nutrition Month!

As we all know, there is A TON of nutrition information all over the place. One day they say something is bad for you and causes all sorts of diseases and the next day it’s the new best thing that is a cure all for all of the diseases it caused before. Well how the heck do we know what to believe?! I am a huge believer of just sticking to the basics. You know the food guide pyramid we all learned about in 6th grade health class? Well the same idea applies, just tweaked a little. The pyramid is now a plate (called MyPlate), which makes a whole lot more sense to me (who eats off of a pyramid? Haha) I am going to summarize the different food groups by using MyPlate.

 As you can see from the picture above, your plate should look a little like this. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables (this is a great tip for portion control also- fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and nutrients and very low in calories. So, you will stay full longer with less calories). A little less than one fourth of your plate should be filled with a lean protein, a little more than one fourth should be filled with a whole grain, and shoot for 3 servings of low fat dairy each day. Here is a little break down of what you should look for when eating each of these food groups.
***Recommedations of how much of each food group you should consume depends on age, height, weight, gender and physical activity. They are not the same from person to person, but I give an average recommendation. Also, children recommendations are usually  lower.


Fruits can be fresh, canned, frozen, dried, or puréed. 100% fruit juice counts for a fruit also, but I recommend trying to eat the actual fruit. Juice can have lots of added sugars, so drink it in moderation. When choosing canned fruits, try to choose fruits that have been canned in water or 100% fruit juice and not syrup. Most adults should consume 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit per day. Examples of 1 cup of fruit: 1 small apple, 1 large banana, 1 cup whole, halved or sliced strawberries.

Fruit has many important nutrients. Try to get a variety of colors when eating fruits…they each have different vitamins and minerals! A few of the many important nutrients found in fruit are potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate.

Tips to get more fruit in your diet:

  • Leave them on the counter top so that you can see them
  • Have cut up fruit ready to go in the fridge
  • Include them in meals
  • Eat them for snacks


Any vegetables or 100% vegetable juice can be considered a part of the vegetable group. Vegetables can be raw or cooked, fresh, canned, frozen or dehydrated. Again, try to eat the whole vegetable instead of drinking the juice. If you are using canned vegetables, use ones that say low sodium or no salt added. There are 5 subgroups of the vegetable group: dark green veggies, starchy veggies, red and orange veggies, beans and peas, and other vegetables. Beans and peas are unique because they count as a vegetable, but can also count as a protein.

Try to get a variety of colors of vegetables each week to receive the nutrient benefits from the different vegetable subgroups. Most adults should get 2 ½ - 3 cups of vegetables per day. 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of vegetable juice and 2 cups of leafy greens count as 1 cup of vegetables.
Most veggies are very low in calories and fat. They also have no cholesterol. Vegetables are packed with very important nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and potassium.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, and obesity. Eating vegetables and fruits that are high in potassium could help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Since fruits and vegetables are so low in calories and so high in nutrients, they can be a great aid if you are trying to lower your calories.

Tips to help you eat more vegetables:

  • Try to plan some meals around the vegetables, making vegetables the center of your meal. Examples include: veggie stir fry, veggie rice bowls, salads with light dressings, etc.
  • Eat vegetables as snacks
  • Have vegetables cut up and ready to go. Get bags of salads, celery, carrots, and other ready to eat vegetables so that vegetables are readily available
  • Include veggies at meal time


Grain products include any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Bread, pasta, cereals, rice, tortillas, and oatmeal are all examples of foods found in the grains food group. There are two subgroups in this category: whole grains and refined grains.

Whole grains are those that contain the entire grain kernel- the bran, germ and endosperm. Examples: 100% whole wheat bread (look on the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient is whole wheat flour- some wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat, but if whole wheat flour is the first ingredient it is true 100% whole wheat bread), oatmeal, plain popcorn, and brown rice.

Refined grains are those that do not contain the entire grain kernel. They have been processed and milled, so do not contain the germ or bran of the kernel anymore. This process gets rid of many important nutrients including fiber, iron and some B vitamins. Examples of refined grains: white bread, white pasta, white rice, white flour.

Most adult women need about 6 ounces of grains each day. Most men need 6-8 ounces of grains each day. Examples of 1 ounce of grains: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta. Try to make at least half of your grains whole!

Whole grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease as well as help decrease the risk of constipation (because of the fiber). Eating whole grains can also help with weight management.


The protein food group includes foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs processed soy products, nuts and seeds. Choose meats that are lean or low-fat. I recommend eating lean white meats on most days of the week (boneless/skinless chicken breast, fish, turkey) and limit red meats to 1-2 times per week. Try to eat at least 8 ounces of seafood per week (for adults, children recommendations are lower). When choosing protein, choose the lean or low fat options. This will help keep cholesterol and saturated fat intake down.

Daily recommendations depend on your sex, weight, height, age, and physical activity level. Most women need about 5 ounces of protein per day and most men need 5 ½ to 6 ½ ounces per day. 1 ounce of the protein group in general includes 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, and ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.

Protein is vital for our body’s maintenance and repair. Proteins are like building blocks- they help build our bones, muscles, cartilage and bones.


Fluid milk and products made from milk belong in the dairy group. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Examples of dairy products: milk, cheese, yogurt.

Adult men and women need about 3 cups of dairy per day. Examples of 1 cup of dairy: 1 cup milk, 1 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup shredded cheese, 1 ½ cups hard cheese, 2 cups cottage cheese.

Dairy consumption leads to improved bone health. Important nutrients found in dairy include: calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein.

K that was a lot of info! if you have more questions about Myplate or nutrition in general, please let us know! You can also go onto www.choosemyplate.gov for more information about the different food groups, for tips, or to find out what your specific caloric needs and recommendations are.

Have a fantastic day! And remember to stick to the basics!


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