A nutritious diet is based on a balance from the four basic food groups. Plan your menus to include the recommended servings from each group. Fruits and vegetables These prime sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber should figure prominently in any diet. Aim for four or more servings each day. A serving could be one apple, 3/4 cup of juice, one medium potato, 1/2 cup of vegetables, or a small salad. Because cooking destroys vitamins, several of the servings are best eaten raw.
If you snack on a handful of raisins or carrot sticks between meals and quench your thirst with a glass of orange or tomato juice, you have met half the daily requirement from this group. Breads, cereals, and grains Grains in the form of complex carbohydrates are important sources of energy and also provide fiber, minerals, and protein. Four or more servings a day are recommended. Because part of a grain’s nutritional value is lost in refining, breads made from whole grains, such as whole wheat and rye, are more nutritious than their processed counterparts.
A slice of bread constitutes a serving. So does half an English muffin, one pancake, or a bowl of cereal. Onehalf cup of cooked pasta equals one serving; thus a good eater can easily pile most of the day’s requirement into a spaghetti dinner. Milk and milk products Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other milk products are the primary sources of calcium. An 8-ounce glass of milk, 3/4 cup of yogurt, 11/2 ounces of cheddar cheese, 2 cups of cottage cheese, or 11/2 cups of ice cream each provide a serving equivalent in calcium. Children need an average of three to four servings a day, adults two servings, and pregnant or nursing women three to four.
Poultry, fish, meat, and beans Foods in this group are the primary sources of protein. Two servings a day are recommended. A typical serving is 2 or 3 ounces of cooked poultry, meat, or fish. A 1/4-pound hamburger, after subtracting the weight lost in cooking, is a bit more than one serving.
The protein in animal flesh is concentrated. To get its equivalent from eggs, beans, nuts, or seeds one must eat a larger quantity, thus adding extra calories. Keep in mind, though, that most meats also contain fat, and fat contains two and a half times the calories of an equivalent weight of carbohydrates. Combine partial servings: one egg, plus 1/2 cup of cooked beans, plus 2 tablespoons of peanut butter add up to a full serving. A handful of nuts is a third of a serving.
Vary the ways you meet the requirement. Not only will your meals be more interesting but you will be getting a broader range of nutrients. Each food has specific virtues not exactly duplicated by any other food.
Combine servings in such nutritious mixtures as chili made with beef, beans, and tomatoes, served with rice and topped with sour cream; vegetable stews or creamed chicken rolled into crepes; fried rice with meat or chicken; side dishes such as cottage cheese with green onions, cucumbers, and radishes.
Whole-milk products, red meats, and eggs are high in cholesterol. Look for ways to substitute skim milk for whole milk, poultry (without the skin) and fish for red meats, unsaturated vegetable oils for saturated animal fats. Many recipes include more sugar, salt, and saturated fats than the body can easily handle. For better health, keep your meals low in sugar, salt, fats, and saturated oils.