Every Food Group
Information about the all the food groups
Every Food Group
Vegetables come from many different parts of plants, including the leaves, roots, tubers, flowers, stems, seeds and shoots. Some vegetables like tomatoes and pumpkin are the fruit of the plant, but are included in this group because they are used as vegetables. Legumes are the seeds of plants from the Leguminosae family. These vegetables are eaten in the immature form as green peas and beans, and the mature form as dried peas, beans, lentils and chick peas. Legumes have not been commonly eaten in Australia, and inclusion of three varieties in this group enables educators to promote a wider use of these foods.
Vegetables and legumes are good sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and carbohydrate. Capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes are high in vitamin C. Dark green and orange vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots and pumpkin are high in vitamin A. Green vegetables, dried peas, beans and lentils are good sources of folate. It has been suggested that a diet which includes vegetables rich in vitamins A and C, together with vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts from the cruciferous family, can help to prevent certain types of cancer.
Mature dried peas, beans, lentils and chick peas are also included in the meat group as they are an excellent source of protein and iron.
A wide variety of fruit is available in Australia today. Fruit forms from the flower and contains the seeds of the plant. Fruit is sweet because of the sugars it contains.
Fruit is a good source of vitamins, including vitamin C and folate. It also provides carbohydrates, in particular natural sugars and fibre, especially in the edible skins. Juices belong to this same group, but they have a much lower fibre content than fresh fruit. Dried fruit also belongs in this group. It contains a concentrated form of sugar, so if eaten frequently or in large quantities it can contribute to dental caries.
These include grains like wheat, oats, rye, barley, millet and corn. The grains can be eaten whole, ground into flour to make a variety of cereal foods like bread, pasta and noodles, or made into ready to eat breakfast cereals.
The nutrients provided by these foods include carbohydrate, protein, fibre and a wide range of vitamins and minerals including folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and iron. Wholemeal or wholegrain varieties provide more fibre, vitamins and minerals. Some processed foods in this group may also contain added fibre, vitamins and minerals during processing. Remember when buying food try to limit the number or preservatives and additives.
Milk, yogurt and firm cheeses are the three important foods in this group. There is a choice of these foods available. Choices of milk and yogurt can be made on the basis of fat content, type of sweetener and flavourings used. Milks can be fresh, dried, evaporated or longlife. Cheeses can also be reduced in fat.
The foods in this group are excellent sources of calcium; very few other foods in the Australian diet are such good sources of this important nutrient. These foods are also good sources of protein, riboflavin and vitamin B12.
Milk, yogurt and firm cheeses can increase the fat content of the diet if the full cream products are used. For most people, five years and over, the best choices are low fat milk, yogurt and cheese. For children under five years of age, full cream varieties are recommended because low fat diets are not suitable. Some people with special needs, including the frail elderly and people who may need to regain weight after illness, will benefit from the full cream choices.
Some people follow a dairy food free or milk free diet because they think that milk makes mucous or they suspect a milk allergy. A link between dairy products and mucous has never been proven. Milk allergy is not common and should be diagnosed by a doctor. If milk is eliminated from the diet, it is best to discuss this with a dietitian to make sure there is enough calcium in the diet.
The importance of this group as a calcium source is supported by the Dietary guidelines for Australians (1) which recommend that Australians eat foods containing calcium.
There is a wide variety of foods in this group. It consists of all kinds of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and nut pastes such as peanut butter, legumes, and some seeds such as sunflower and sesame seeds.
The foods in this group are a good source of protein, iron, niacin and vitamin B12. Within this group, red meats are particularly good sources of iron and zinc. The iron in animal foods is more easily absorbed by the body than the iron in vegetable foods. Vitamin C, found in fruit and vegetables, will assist the body to absorb iron from plant foods if eaten at the same time.
Red meat should be eaten 3-4 times a week or high iron replacement foods will be required. This is especially true for girls, women, vegetarians and athletes. Iron supplements will often be recommended by the doctor or midwife during pregnancy.
Table 6: Foods belonging to the Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes group
Some foods do not fit into the five food groups. They are not essential to provide the nutrients the body needs and some contain too much fat, salt and sugar. These foods are likely to contribute large amounts of energy. However, they can add to the enjoyment of eating a healthy diet. People who are very active or growing rapidly can eat more of them than people who are inactive or trying to lose weight. Examples include biscuits, cakes, desserts, pastries, soft drinks, high fat snack items such as crisps, pies, pasties, sausage rolls and other takeaways, lollies and chocolate.
Similarly alcoholic drinks are not essential to provide the nutrients the body needs. They should only be consumed sometimes, in small amounts or not at all. Alcohol is not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women (1,2).
Choose these foods sometimes, in small amounts or not at all. Most people can eat small amounts of extra foods as part of a healthy diet. A healthier alternative is to eat more food from the five food groups most of the time.
Margarine and oil also fit into this group of foods which should only be eaten sometimes or in small amounts. This can be achieved with these foods in the following ways:
Unsaturated fats are a type of fat found in many oils and margarines. When included in a low fat diet they may have a positive benefit for health by lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. These fats are known as either ‘polyunsaturated’ or ‘monounsaturated’. Sunflower, safflower, corn and soya bean oils are mainly polyunsaturated. Olive, peanut and canola oils are mainly monounsaturated.
Saturated fats are a type of fat that can increase the risk of heart disease and so are not recommended. They are found in large quantities in butter, lard and dripping. Saturated fats are also found in vegetable fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils which are often used in commercial foods. Foods that have these fats towards the top of the ingredients list on their label are likely to be high in saturated fat.