Food Pyramid

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for publishing the Food Guide Pyramid that you learned about back in elementary school. It was designed in the 1980s and built from six food groups to help people put together a healthy daily menu. As times changed and scientists discovered more about health and nutrition, a new graphic replaced the old Food Guide Pyramid in 2005. The new guide, called My Pyramid, reflects current thinking about healthy food choices.

The USDA's My Pyramid website (www.mypyramid.gov) lets you customize a nutritional and fitness plan for your special needs. There is a link specifically for breastfeeding mothers. Just enter the requested information, and the website does the rest.

Group 1: Grains

The USDA recommends that most people eat at least three ounces of whole grains every day. A serving from this group would be a single slice of bread, one ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or one-half cup of rice, pasta, or cooked cereal.

Group 2: Vegetables

The vegetable group is a rich source of nutrients but is often neglected in many Americans’ diets. Eating three to five servings of vegetables per day is a good start. A serving equals one cup of raw, leafy veggies; one-half cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables; or three-quarters of a cup of vegetable juice. All vegetables are nutritional powerhouses. For instance, dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are rich in cancer-fighting agents.

Group 3: Fruits

Have an apple, an orange, or a banana anytime, but don't stop there. Eat a variety of fruits, but don't make fruit juice a major part of your routine. Most of it contains too much sugar and too little fiber. Whole, unprocessed foods are generally the way to go. Processing removes or destroys a lot of the good stuff.

Group 4: Milk

The dairy group is a great source of calcium and is often fortified with vitamin D. WIC recommends four daily servings for women who nurse their babies. One cup of milk or yogurt, one and one half ounces of natural cheese, or two ounces of processed cheese count as a single serving. Low-fat or fat-free milk is the healthiest choice for most women. If you are lactose intolerant, you will need to find other sources of calcium and vitamin D.

Group 5: Fats and Oils

Yes, there is a place in your diet for fats (which are solid at room temperature) and oils (which are liquid). Your body needs the essential fatty acids and the vitamin E found in these slippery selections. The recommended sources are fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Animal fat and oil sources contain cholesterol, so they are best avoided. Most people get more than they need of this food category in their regular diet, but changing the source type to fish, nuts, and vegetables is a step in the right direction.

Group 6: Meats and Beans

This group contains meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and dry beans or peas, all of which are good sources of protein. Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meats and poultry. Fish, seeds, and nuts are better choices since they also contain healthy oils instead of saturated fats.

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