When I was a kid, it was simple.
If your elementary school was producing a play about nutrition, your parents could count on you portraying one of four things: Meat, Dairy, Grain, and Fruit/ Vegetable (lumped together, I believe, because of the tomato’s withholding of empirical data and tax records). Occasionally, one child would be selected to play the farmer, but that counts as a meat. I digress…
The powers that be have decided that the world of nutrition should not be so simple, and that the only things that should come in fours are seasons, states of matter, and corners on a rectangle (Fun Fact: in the age of classical antiquity, there were only three seasons, so things have always been sketchy).
What’s the big difference? If you haven’t gotten the updates, here’s a rundown on the all new and improved food groups:
Protein Foods: Formerly Known As “Meat”
This group includes nuts, beans, eggs, and anything that had a face. They are made of amino acids, which is what our bodies are made of, so you need this stuff in whatever way you want it. Protein helps make your muscles, your hair, and the occasional cellular repairs. So if you want to grow up strong, get some.
Fruit: Sometimes They’re Vegetables
They’re still friends, but they’re just reviewing other options.
There is a difference between fruits and vegetables. Fruit is the sweet, ripe ovary of a seed-bearing plant, and they have a simple sugar known as fructose. Fruits also have lots of fiber for improving digestion, vitamins for better health, and antioxidants to keep you young.
Oh, and the deal with tomatoes? They’re a fruit, and you might be surprised by what else you’ve been mistaking for vegetables.
Vegetables: They are Never Fruits
While they do have a lot in common with fruit, what with being plants and all, veggies are herbaceous plants that have varied edible parts, such as the roots, leaves, bulbs, and so forth, depending on the case in question. Fruits are typically the sweeter of the two, and vegetables give you a bunch of other essentials, mostly minerals like iron and calcium.
Grains: I have Nothing Fun to Say about Them
What’s so good about grains? Fiber, of course, which is a big help in digestion. It also reduces risk of heart disease and is good for weight management. They also have a bunch of B vitamins that stimulate metabolism, helping your body release the energy from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Try to stick to whole grains, and avoid the processed stuff. Keep close to the source.
Dairy: Does a Body Good, They Say
This is all about milk, and things made of milk, and things not made of milk but acting as if they are, specifically being calcium-fortified soymilk. This is where calcium can be got, a lot, which your bones are begging for. It’s also got some good protein going on. And there’s the vitamin D, which helps make that calcium work better for you.
That’s your refresher. I know I made it sound like they added 50 other food groups, but they finally separated that messy fruits versus vegetables nonsense.
If you really want to know how to make these food do what they do, and how much you need of each, check out www.choosemyplate.gov.