A Varied Plate

Why you should enjoy plenty of different foods each and every day.

Are you a person of habit? Then you may have the habit of eating the same foods for your meals each day. Do you eat the same cereal every morning with the same juice? The same kind of sandwich and chips for lunch? Maybe you eat plenty of whole grains, but not enough vegetables. Perhaps you or your children are picky eaters and don’t include much variety in your diets.

If this sounds like you, you may not be getting the nutrients you need for a healthy diet. You know it’s important to eat a variety of different foods each day to make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Because while you may think you’ve got a “super food” in your repertoire, no single food can provide your body with all it needs for optimal health.

Here is some advice on how to vary the foods you eat.

The heart, like the stomach, wants a varied diet.. –Gustave Flaubert

Grab the Plate

A helpful place to start is the Food Guide Pyramid. Well, it was a few years ago. Today, you’ll need to check out MyPlate, which has taken the place of the long-loved pyramid. This shows the five major food groups and how much space each should take on your plate each day. These five food groups and their recommended daily servings are: grains (bread, cereal, rice, and pasta – approximately one-quarter of your plate), fruits (approximately one-fifth of your plate), vegetables (more than half your plate), protein (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nut – one-quarter of your plate), and dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese – a glass on the side of the plate).

Of course, you don’t have to divide your plate into four pieces and fill it precisely at each meal, but MyPlate serves as a general guide to help when deciding what to eat.

Go with the Combo

Try choosing a variety of different foods, not only from different food groups, but also from within the same food group. Instead of eating an apple every day for a snack, go with a banana or pear on occasion. Then toss in a peach or plum when the season is right. Each type of food, whether a fruit, protein, grain, dairy, or vegetable contains different combinations of nutrients. Some fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of vitamin A or vitamin C, while others are great sources of folate. On top of getting a greater variety of vitamins and minerals, eating a variety of foods makes your meals more interesting and tasty.

In Special Situations

Depending on your age or gender, you may need extra amounts of certain food groups. For example, adolescent girls and women need to eat higher amounts of calcium to keep their bones strong. They can get this important mineral from low-fat milk products. Young kids, teenage girls, and women of childbearing age also need to eat plenty of iron-rich foods. These include lean meats, whole-grain or enriched breads, and cereals.

Vegetarians and vegans are another group of people with special dietary needs. Since they avoid meat, fish, and poultry, vegetarians need to make sure they eat a variety of other foods rich in protein, iron, B vitamins, and zinc. Mineral, vitamin, and fiber supplements are available to meet other dietary special needs as well. However, in most cases, if you eat enough servings from each of the five food groups you should not need additional supplements.

Elderly people and those who don’t get enough sunlight may require additional vitamin D. Pregnant women often require folic acid and iron supplements.

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