Foods are divided into different categories, each with their own recommended portions in our dietary plan, to create a strategy for healthy living. These are the Grains Group, Vegetable Group, Fruit Group, Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs and Nuts Group, Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group, and the Fats and Oils Group. These are broad categories. The next step in creating a good nutritional plan is knowing the foods that fall into each category and the nutritional properties they contain.
The foods from each group work together in the body to achieve the goals of health, muscle-building, fat-loss and cancer and disease-fighting. By choosing and consuming the proper combination of foods in each group, everyone can meet their nutritional goals.
According to the USDA, the foundation of any standard nutritional plan for healthy living is the Bread and Cereals Group. For fitness, many people cut a large amount of this group out of their diet to achieve fat-burning goals. Though this can be quite effective for quick fat-loss, it is important to be familiar with the dietary requirements you may also cut out when following this type of plan. Healthy carbohydrates can help to build and maintain muscle mass. They are also a necessary element of energy production. To maintain a healthy diet, it is imperative that those nutrients are maintained by making very strategic choices in this category or made up in other food sources.
This food category can be divided up into two major sub-categories, whole grains and refined grains. These two types can react very differently in the body and may be useful to achieve your fitness goals without reducing the Bread and Cereals Group to an unhealthy point.
It is recommended to consume six to eleven servings of breads and cereals per day. Though the USDA suggests that at least half of these be whole grains, one should realize that it is the minimum. The more whole grains one consumes, the better. Refined grains have a higher glycemic index, the factor used to determine how a food affects our blood glucose levels. A food with a higher glycemic index will eventually turn to fat more quickly than those with a lower glycemic index. Foods such as white bread, grits and cornmeal are refined grains.
During the refining process, the germ or seed, as well as the bran, is removed from the grain. Therefore, many of the important nutrients of the grain such as fiber, unsaturated fat, protein and iron are removed alongside, reducing much of the nutritional benefit of the food.
Whole grains provide the dietary fiber required for a healthy nutritional plan. They also have a lower glycemic index which causes them to turn to glucose more slowly, providing a more sustaining energy which is less likely to turn to fat when combined with exercise. These are foods such as wheat breads, sweet potatoes, brown rice and wheat pasta.
Dietary fiber: Cellulose is the indigestible remnant of food that passes through the body mostly in tact throughout the digestive process. Though it may be beneficial for most foods to be broken down thoroughly, it is not the case for cellulose, a dietary fiber. Dietary fiber improves and speeds elimination, which reduces the body’s exposure to cancer causing agents. Eating whole grain food products tends to increase eating time and create a more “full” feeling, which may help with weight loss by preventing over-eating. Foods such as wheat, barley, bran and oats are high in dietary fiber.
Vitamin B Complex: Found in whole grains, wheat germ and brewer’s yeast, along with other foods such as liver and yogurt, this food will improve eyes, gastrointestinal tract, hair, liver, mouth health, nerves and skin. Its benefits include enhanced energy, metabolism, (carbohydrate, fat, protein) and muscle tone. People who are deficient in this vitamin may suffer from acne, anemia, consumption, cholesterol (high), digestive disturbances, fatigue, hair issues (dry, dull, falling out), insomnia and dry, rough skin. Some factors that may deplete this are alcohol, antibiotics, birth control pills, coffee, infections, sleeping pills, stress and sugar.
Thiamin: Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, is found in whole grain breads and cereals. There are many American adults deficient in this vitamin, largely due to the high rate of alcohol consumption, which depletes its reserves. It can also be depleted by high consumption of sugar. Thiamin has been shown to be a protector against heart disease, anemia (by promoting blood building), lead poisoning, herpes and other infections. It is also shown to promote a healthy nervous system, growth (improved carbohydrate metabolism) and lean muscle gain. It is found in bran and whole grains, but also has high concentrations in organ meats.
Pyridoxine: Also known as Vitamin B6, it is important for the metabolism of proteins for muscle maintenance and weight control. It also assists in hemoglobin production and the body’s hydrochloric acid fabrication, which aids in the digestive process. It can be found in whole grains and wheat germ, but also in avocados, brewer's yeast, cabbage, liver, fish, green leafy vegetables, meat, organ meat and walnuts.
Selenium: This anti-aging, anti-cancer mineral works with vitamin E to promote growth and metabolism. It is anti-carcinogenic, an immunostimulant, protects against heart and circulatory disease and promotes skin elasticity. Its cancer-fighting properties are due to its help of pancreatic function. Many vitamins and minerals cross food groups. Selenium is found in cereal bran, whole grains and brown rice but is also high in chicken, seafood, broccoli and garlic.
Though the Bread and Cereals Group may be considered the “carb” category and has been avoided by many people focusing on quick fat-loss, it is important to maintain a healthy balance of breads and cereals in the diet. By concentrating on whole grains, one can get the maximum benefit of this category without as many of the negatives that are associated with eating too many carbohydrates. Special caution should be exercised with the choices made in this category since its foods have a potential for fat-gain, but are also an important foundation of the diet.