The five food groups cover all the nutrients we need to stay healthy.
1. Water – the most vital nutrient.
2. Carbohydrates – to give energy.
3. Proteins – the building blocks for repair and growth.
4. Vitamins and minerals – called micronutrients because they are needed in such small (but vital) amounts.
5. Fats – small amounts of the right fats are necessary for normal function of hormones and nerves, including the brain.
These five food groups are based on the nutrients we need from food, rather than the type of food.
Most foods supply more than one type of nutrient. For instance, whole grain bread is a good source of carbohydrates, and also has some B vitamins, and a little protein. Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein and also of several vitamins and minerals.
Water is the most important (and often overlooked) of the five food groups. Your body is 70% water and it’s needed for every process in your body. You need a regular supply as it’s being used up all the time. Drink 6-8 glassfuls a day.
Carbohydrates are used for energy. Best sources are whole grains, pulses and vegetables (potatoes are the obvious ones, but also sweet potatoes and most root vegetables). Too much leads to weight gain, not enough to hunger, tiredness, and weight loss.
People tend to think first of foods like bread and pasta as good sources of carbohydrates, but some people can’t digest wheat, and need a gluten free diet.
Protein is used for body building and repair. Protein rich food sources are meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains. Deficiency signs include weakness, poor growth, poor immune function and slow healing. See what it takes to follow the protein requirements.
Vitamins and minerals include many different substances, from minerals like calcium, needed in quite large amounts to build strong bones and teeth, to vitamins and trace elements needed in minute quantities. In this group we can also include phytonutrients – enzymes and other essential nutrients we get from plants, not classed as vitamins.
Fats – two types, basically: The EFAs (essential fatty acids), which are necessary for normal function of hormones and enzymes throughout your body; and other fats, whether unsaturated or saturated fats, which are used as fuel by your body – or stored if not used up.
Fibre is not exactly a nutrient, but is still essential to keep you healthy. It’s the indigestible roughage in our food that helps to keep our bowels healthy. Lack of fibre leads to constipation. This, apart from the obvious discomfort, can also lead to headaches and tiredness because toxins get reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
What is the right amount to have of each of these groups? That depends on the individual – there are so many factors that decide how much you need at any time.
For healthy eating habits you need to keep these five food groups in balance.
In western countries people often eat too much protein, carbohydrates and fats, and not enough foods rich in vitamins and minerals – which is why obesity is such a big problem. If you find keeping off the extra pounds a problem, read about the quickest way to lose weight.
Another common problem is acid reflux (GERD). Avoid this by cutting down on these foods that cause acid reflux.
For healthy eating habits a diet based on fresh vegetables and fruit is ideal. This gives you plenty of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but not too much protein or carbohydrate. Add moderate amounts of carbohydrate–rich foods and protein foods for a balanced diet.
Fiber is another must-have for a healthy diet. If you’re unable to get enough fiber from your foods, you can choose an herbal fiber supplement to round out your diet. Fiber has the added benefit of helping to cleanse the colon of accumulated waste and toxins. Cleansing helps relieve occasional constipation, promote body detoxification and even restore energy.