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Food Groups

Cow’s milk and dairy foods made from it, such as cheese and yogurt, are one source of several key nutrients important for growth and overall health. Examples of nutrients provided by these foods, which are part of the Dairy Group, include calcium, potassium, vitamins A and D, as well as protein. Most dairy foods come from cow's milk. Other sources of dairy foods can be the milk of sheep, goats and other animals. Dairy foods are rich in many essential vitamins and minerals.

Fruits are a major source of nutrients we need. Since the nutrients in fruits vary, it's important to eat a variety on a regular basis. Fruits may be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated. Fruits can be eaten whole, cut up, puréed (mashed), or cooked. At least half of the recommended amount of fruit eaten should come from whole fruit, rather than 100% fruit juice. Eating foods such as fruits that are lower in calories per cup, instead of other higher calorie foods, may help lower overall calorie intake.

Foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, grits, and tortillas are examples of grain products. Foods such as popcorn, rice, and oatmeal are also included in the Grains Group. Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Some whole-grain examples are whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life. But it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.

Oils & Solid Fats
Though not a food group, oils and fats contain nutrients that are an important part of a healthy eating pattern. Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. They provide you with important nutrients such as unsaturated fats and vitamin E. Choosing unsaturated fat in place of saturated fat can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. Many foods supply oils, like nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados.

Protein Foods
Protein Foods include all foods made from seafood; meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids that link together in different combinations. Plant proteins (beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains) usually lack at least one of the essential amino acids and are considered 'incomplete' proteins.

Vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, flavors, and textures. They contain vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, and are an important source of fiber. The vegetable food group includes dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and legumes (beans and peas). Including vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern can reduce the risk of some chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well stroke and cancer. Vegetables are an important part of a healthy eating pattern and are excellent sources of many nutrients, including potassium, fiber, folate (folic acid) and vitamins A, E and C.