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Chapter 7. Breaking It Down

Now, you are going to learn what makes up a healthy eating plan and the amounts of each food group necessary to meet your nutrient and calorie needs. A warning: this chapter is a little long, and it is packed full of information. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you need to, go through this chapter a little at a time—in bitesize pieces. The payoff is big. At the end, you will have a healthy eating plan, full of foods you already like, designed by you. Are you excited? We are.

What is a healthy eating plan?   |    What are the food groups?   |    My Healthy Eating Plan
Eat fruits and vegetables.   |    How many fruits and vegetables do you need?
Eat calcium-rich foods.   |    How much milk or milk products do I need?
Eat whole grains.   |    How many servings of grains should I be eating?
Last stop, protein!   |    Summing it up

What is a healthy eating plan?

In chapter 6, "Calories + Nutrients = Food," we learned a healthy eating plan is one that:

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and equivalent milk products. Specifically, many fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients but have few calories.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans (legumes), eggs, and nuts.
  • Is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Balances calorie intake with calorie needs.

       ...and tastes good too!

So, what does this mean? In this website, appendix A has examples of two healthy eating plans, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan1 and the USDA Food Guide.2 We will use the DASH Eating Plan as an example. From this, you can map out how much you need from each food group based on your calorie needs.

What are the food groups?

The food groups we are referring to categorize foods into major groups:

  • Grains
  • Milk and milk products
  • Fruits
  • Meats, poultry, and fish
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts, seeds,and legumes
Sometimes, meat, poultry, and fish, and nuts, seeds, and legumes, are referred to as the "protein group."

My Healthy Eating Plan

Let’s get started on filling out a healthy eating plan for you. This will be your goal to strive for when eating healthfully. Once you’ve completed "My Healthy Eating Plan," you’ll have an eating plan that is relevant to and realistic for you, because it will be full of food you like. Remember, this is about you, and what works for you.

In chapter 5, "A Calorie Is a Calorie, or Is It?"—you set your calorie goal. Now, you use your calorie goal, and we’ll use our friend Jennifer as an example to illustrate how a completed plan looks. You can use either plan in appendix A that works for you (DASH Eating Plan or USDA Food Guide). For this example, Jennifer used the 2,000-calorie level of the DASH Eating Plan to determine what and how much she should eat from each food group. Jennifer’s calorie goal is 2,000 calories. She filled out her plan for each food group.

Now, it’s your turn. Visit "My Healthy Eating Plan." Write in your calorie goal. Next, use the information in appendix A , to fill in how much from each food group you can eat each day. Write the number of daily servings of each food group in the food group boxes at the top of "My Healthy Eating Plan." Is it more or less than Jennifer needs to eat?

About Jennifer Header
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Jennifer is a 30-year-old female who is 5’5" and weighs 125 pounds. She is a computer specialist who spends most of her day at her desk at work. She walks a mile to and from work each day.

Using the BMI chart in chapter 4, Jennifer determined that she has a BMI of approximately 21. According to the BMI chart, she is at a healthy weight.

Next, using the definitions in chapter 4, Jennifer determined her physical activity level. Her activity level is equivalent to 2 miles per day. She is moderately active.

Then, using the calorie chart in chapter 4, Jennifer estimated her calorie needs based on her age and current physical activity level. Jennifer’s calorie needs are approximately 2,000 daily calories.

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Next, we are going to tell you in detail what we mean by food groups, what you need to eat in each of the food groups and why, and how to meet your goal for consuming a healthy diet. We also have tips on how to get these healthy foods into your daily eating plan whether you are getting your food at the grocery store, at home, or on the go.

First look at this table, which shows you the food groups, the number of servings in each group needed for a 2,000-calorie diet, and a few examples of foods that equal 1 serving.

Food Groups 2,000-Calorie
Eating Plan
Serving Sizes
(1 serving)
Grainsa 6—8 servings 1 slice bread
1 oz dry cerealb
1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal
Vegetables 4—5 servings 1 cup raw leafy vegetable
1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetable
1/2 cup vegetable juice
Fruits 4—5 servings ½ cup fruit juice
1 medium fruit
¼ cup dried fruit
½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
Fat-free or low-fat milk and equivalent milk products 2—3 servings 1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk
1 cup fat-free or low-fat yogurt
1½ oz fat-free, low-fat, or reduced fat cheese
Lean meats, poultry, and fish 2 or less servings 3 oz cooked meat, poultry, or fish (1 oz meat = 1 eggc)
Nuts, seeds, and legumes 4—5 servings per week ⅓ cup or 1½ oz nuts
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp or ½ oz seeds
½cup cooked dry beans or peas

a Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings to meet fiber recommendations.
b Equals ½ to 1¼ cups, depending on cereal type. Check the product’s Nutrition Facts label.
c Since eggs are high in cholesterol, limit egg yolk intake to no more than 4 per week because of the saturated fat and cholesterol content; two egg whites have the same protein content as 1 oz of meat.

The number of servings is per day unless otherwise stated.

Now, let’s talk more in depth about why each food group is important for your health, assess how much of each food group you currently eat, and set goals for what you need to eat to be a Healthier You. You may notice that fats and oils, and sweets, on "My Healthy Eating Plan" are not in the table. We’ll talk about them in the next chapter.

Eat fruits and vegetables.

You’ve probably heard this all of your life—fruits and vegetables are good for you, and it’s important to eat them every day.

It may help to know why.

Fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. Compared to people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, people who eat them daily as part of a healthy diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancers in certain parts of the body (mouth, throat, lung, esophagus, stomach, and colon-rectum).

A healthy diet is one that: emphasizes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and equivalent milk products; includes lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes (dry beans and peas), eggs, nuts, and seeds; and balances calorie intake with calorie needs. Sound familiar?

The fiber in fruits, vegetables, and legumes is important. Healthful diets rich in fibercontaining foods may reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition to fiber, many fruits and vegetables are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium—which are important because many of us don’t eat enough foods with these nutrients. And, these nutrients are particularly important for women who are or may become pregnant.3 In chapter 6, "Calories + Nutrients = Food," we discussed nutrients and their role in reducing risks for chronic diseases and promoting health. On the next page is a short list for your reference when you are looking for ideas to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. A more extensive list for each of these nutrients is in appendix B,4.

Eating fruits and vegetables provides other benefits, too. One is calorie control. Many fruits and vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients or "nutrient dense"—a term that is gaining popularity in the "diet world." So, if you’re trying to lose weight, fruits and vegetables can help you feel full. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients—have we made that point yet? They can help you get the most nutrition out of the daily number of calories you’re supposed to eat for a Healthier You. Remember, different fruits and vegetables are rich in different nutrients, so aim for a variety. And when eating vegetables, include those that are dark green and leafy or orange, and don’t forget dry beans and peas.

1. This eating plan was originally developed and studied by scientists at the National Institutes of Health to lower blood pressure. But it is much more than that. It meets all of your recommended nutrients within your calorie needs and allows you the flexibility to enjoy healthful foods. For more detailed information about the DASH Eating Plan, please visit

Food Pyramid 2. You can find detailed information about the USDA Food Guide, better known as MyPyramid, on its Web site: This Web site provides a personalized food intake pattern based on your age, gender, and physical activity level, as well as the MyPyramid Tracker, an interactive diet and activity assessment tool.

3. Since folic acid reduces the risk of the neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly in the developing fetus, a daily intake of 400 ug/day of synthetic folic acid (from fortified foods or supplements in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet) is recommended for women of childbearing age who may become pregnant. Folic acid is critical for fetal development, especially before the woman knows she is pregnant. Pregnant women should consume 600 ug/day of synthetic folic acid (from fortified foods or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet. It is not known whether the same level of protection could be achieved by using food that is naturally rich in folate.

4. Appendix B contains food sources of selected nutrients: potassium, vitamin E, iron, non-dairy sources of calcium, calcium, vitamin A, magnesium, dietary fiber, and vitamin C.


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