Which foods would be the best choice?
Each day you make many food choices. You decide which lunch line to get into. Then you may choose an after-school snack. How can you make the most healthy decisions?
Choosing Healthy Foods
Foods such as whole grain breads, fresh fruits, and fish provide nutrients you need for good health. But different foods give you different types of nutrients. You also need different amounts of each nutrient. How can you choose the right mix of foods to get the proper balance of nutrients? Three tools can help you choose foods wisely: MyPyramid, MyPlate, and food labels.
MyPyramid (Figure below) is a diagram that shows how much you should eat each day of foods from six different food groups. It recommends the amount of nutrients you need based on your age, your gender, and your level of activity. The six food groups in MyPyramid are:
- Grains, such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal.
- Vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
- Fruits, such as oranges, apples, bananas, and strawberries.
- Oils, such as vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oil.
- Dairy, such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cheeses.
- Meat and beans, such as chicken, fish, soybeans, and kidney beans.
MyPyramid can help you choose foods wisely for good health. Each colored band represents a different food group. The key shows which food group each color represents. Which colored band of MyPyramid is widest? Which food group does it represent?
In MyPyramid, each food group is represented by a band of a different color. For example, grains are represented by an orange band, and vegetables are represented by a green band. The wider the band, the more foods you should choose from that food group each day.
The orange band in MyPyramid is the widest band. This means that you should choose more foods from the grain group than from any other single food group. The green, blue, and red bands are also relatively wide. Therefore, you should choose plenty of foods from the vegetable, dairy, and fruit groups as well. You should choose the fewest foods from the food group with the narrowest band. Which band is narrowest? Which food group does it represent?
Are you wondering where foods like ice cream, cookies, and potato chips fit into MyPyramid? The white tip of MyPyramid represents foods such as these. These are foods that should be eaten only in very small amounts and not very often. Such foods contain very few nutrients and are called nutrient-poor. Instead, they are high in fats, sugars, and sodium, which are nutrients that you should limit in a healthy eating plan. Ice cream, cookies, and potato chips are also high in calories. Eating too much of them may lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Healthy Eating Guidelines
- Make at least half your daily grain choices whole grains. Examples of whole grains are whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice.
- Choose a variety of different vegetables each day. Be sure to include both dark green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, and orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Choose a variety of different fruits each day. Select mainly fresh fruits rather than canned fruits, and whole fruits instead of fruit juices.
- When choosing oils, choose unsaturated oils, such as olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and other dairy products. For example, select fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
- For meats, choose fish, chicken, and lean cuts of beef. Also, be sure to include beans, nuts, and seeds.
In June 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture replaced My Pyramid with MyPlate. MyPlate depicts the relative daily portions of various food groups (Figure below). See http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ for more information.
MyPlate is a visual guideline for balanced eating, replacing MyPyramid in 2011.
The following guidelines accompany MyPlate:
1. Balancing Calories
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
2. Foods to Increase
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Make at least half your grains whole grains.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
3. Foods to Reduce
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals; choose the foods with lower levels.
- Drink water instead of drinks with high levels of sugar.
Using Nutrition Facts Labels
In the United States and other nations, packaged foods are required by law to have nutrition facts labels. A nutrition facts label (Figure below) shows the nutrients in a food. Packaged foods are also required to list their ingredients.
The information listed at the right of the label tells you what to look for. At the top of the label, look for the serving size. The serving size tells you how much of the food you should eat to get the nutrients listed on the label. A cup of food from the label pictured below is a serving. The calories in one serving are listed next. In this food, there are 250 calories per serving.
Reading nutrition facts labels can help you choose healthy foods. Look at the nutrition facts label shown here. Do you think this food is a good choice for a healthy eating plan? Why or why not?
Next on the nutrition facts label, look for the percent daily values (% DV) of nutrients. Remember the following tips when reading a food label:
- A food is low in a nutrient if the percent daily value of the nutrient is 5% or less.
- The healthiest foods are low in nutrients such as fats and sodium.
- A food is high in a nutrient if the percent daily value of the nutrient is 20% or more.
- The healthiest foods are high in nutrients such as fiber and proteins.
Look at the percent daily values on the food label (Figure above). Which nutrients have values of 5% or less? These are the nutrients that are low in this food. They include fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. Which nutrients have values of 20% or more? These are the nutrients that are high in this food. They include sodium, potassium, and calcium.
Balancing Food with Exercise
Look at MyPyramid (Figure above). Note the person walking up the side of the pyramid. This shows that exercise is important for balanced eating. Exercise helps you use any extra energy in the foods you eat. The more active you are, the more energy you use. You should try to get at least an hour of physical activity just about every day. Pictured below are some activities that can help you use extra energy (Figure below).
All of these activities are good ways to exercise and use extra energy. The calories given for each activity are the number of calories used in an hour by a person that weighs 100 pounds. Which of these activities uses the most calories? Which of the activities do you enjoy?
Weight Gain and Obesity
Any unused energy in food is stored in the body as fat. This is true whether the extra energy comes from carbohydrates, proteins, or lipids. What happens if you take in more energy than you use, day after day? You will store more and more fat and become overweight.
Eventually, you may become obese. Obesity is having a very high percentage of body fat. Obese people are at least 20 percent heavier than their healthy weight range. The excess body fat of obesity is linked to many diseases. Obese people often have serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. They are also more likely to develop arthritis and some types of cancer. People who remain obese during their entire adulthood usually do not live as long as people who stay within a healthy weight range.
The current generation of children and teens is the first generation in our history that may have a shorter life than their parents. The reason is their high rate of obesity and the health problems associated with obesity. You can avoid gaining weight and becoming obese. The choice is yours. Choose healthy foods by using MyPyramid and reading food labels. Then get plenty of exercise to balance the energy in the foods you eat.
MyPlate: Visual guideline for balanced eating.
MyPyramid: Diagram that shows the relative amounts you should eat from six different food groups.
nutrition facts label: Label on food packaging that lists the ingredients and amount of nutrients in a food.
obesity: Condition of having a very high percentage of body fat.
- MyPlate, MyPyramid, and food labels are tools that can help you choose the best foods for healthy eating.
- Eating too much and exercising too little can lead to weight gain and obesity.
Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.
- What should the biggest section of your plate be filled with?
- What does it mean when vegetables have bright colors?
- Why are whole grains better for you than refined grains?
- Which food group contains soybeans, kidney beans, and fish?
- What happens if you take in more energy than you use, day after day?