Tag Archives: Grains

Helpful hints when choosing your foods

My previous post on understanding the food pyramid provided guidelines on how many servings from each food group should be consumed per day.  Use that information, along with the tips below to make your diet as nutritious as possible.

Food Group Helpful Hints!


-Make half your daily grain choices whole grains.-Good sources: whole grain or whole wheat bread or pasta, oats, rye, barley, couscous

-Poor sources: enriched wheat flour (e.g. white bread), cookies, cakes, doughnuts

-When preparing mixed dishes, such as soups or stews, include whole grains such as barley or quinoa. Use whole grain bread crumbs in meatloaf and use whole wheat flour for up to half of the flour used in pancake, waffle and muffin recipes.


-While 100% fruit juice counts towards daily fruit intake, try and limit consumption to less than ¾ cup per day (1.5 servings). Juice lacks the fiber that whole fruits provide.
-When selecting canned items, be sure the fruit is canned in 100% fruit juice or water, rather than syrup

-While french fries technically count as a veggie, it’s important to mix it up! Be sure to also eat dark green and orange veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots and squash.

-Milk choices, including fluid milk, cottage cheese and yogurt, should be fat-free or low-fat.
-Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, including cream cheese, cream and butter are not included in this group. Instead, they appear under “oils,” because of their fat content.


Meats, poultry, fish, nuts
-Choose lean or low-fat cuts and remember that preparation method matters! Baking or grilling a cutlet is a lot healthier than deep-frying it!-Wondering how many nuts make up ½ oz? It’s 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or 7 walnut halves.

-Good sources: beans, tofu, fish, chicken without skin, eggs, lean meat, peanut butter, seeds

-Poor sources: baked beans, fried eggs, sausages, spare ribs

-Eat fish at least twice a week and select fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout and herring.

-Organ meats, including liver, as well as egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but egg whites are cholesterol-free!

-Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats are high in sodium, so limit your intake.


Oils -It’s best to steer clear of solid fats, like butter and lard, because solid fats are high in trans fat and saturated fat, which increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, use liquid fats, such as canola, corn and olive oils. (Note: coconut and palm kernel are the two oils high in saturated fat and should be used sparingly.)

-When choosing margarine to purchase, look for one with zero grams trans fat.

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Making Sense of the Food Pyramid

Q: How do I interpret the USDA’s food pyramid? What are appropriate portions for each food group?

A: The food pyramid consists of six major categories: grains, fruits, vegetables, meat & beans, milk and oils. The guidelines below are based on a diet containing roughly 2,000 calories per day – enough for the average adult. By visiting MyPyramid.gov, you can create a personal food pyramid and menu plan! Try keeping a food diary for a day or two and see how your diet matches up to the following recommendations. Then you’ll be able make substitutions and adjustments where necessary.

Food Group Single Serving Size
Grains – 6 servings per day 1 slice of bread = ¼ typical bagel = ½ English muffin = 1 cup of cereal = ½ cup cooked oatmeal, rice or pasta = ¼ cup granola 
Fruit – 4 servings per day ½ cup fruit slices = 1 medium-sized banana/apple/peach = ¼ cup dried fruit = ½ cup fruit juice 
Vegetables – 5 servings per day ½ cup cooked veggies = ½ cup raw veggies = ½ cup vegetable juice = ½ cup legumes = 1 cup raw, leafy greens (e.g. spinach, lettuce) 

Note: Legumes will also appear in the meat group because of their high protein content, but technically, they are vegetables.


Dairy – 3 servings per day 1 cup (8 fl oz) milk = 2 oz processed cheese (e.g. American) = 1 cup yogurt = 1.5 oz natural cheese (e.g. cheddar, mozzarella) 
Meats, poultry, fish, nuts – 6 servings per day 1 oz lean meat, chicken or fish = 1 slice of deli meat = 1 egg = ¼ cup legumes or tofu = 1 tbsp peanut butter = ½ oz nuts or seeds 
Oils – 6 servings per day 1 tsp oil = 1 tbsp mayonnaise = 2 tbsp light salad dressing = 1 tsp margarine

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Whole vs. Refined Grains

Q: Why are whole grains healthier than refined grains?

A: The wheat kernel contains four main components: the germ – rich in oils, vitamins and minerals, the starchy endosperm, the nutrient- and fiber- packed bran coating and the inedible husk. A “whole grain” refers to a grain milled in its entirety, except for the husk. Examples of nutritious whole grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgar, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat. Refining grains removes the coarse parts of the kernel, which leaves only the starchy endosperm and causes the loss of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  All refined products (e.g. white bread, white pasta) are required to be enriched with iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate to combat deficiencies in these nutrients. Unfortunately, even enriched products remain nutritionally inferior to whole grains. For example, a slice of enriched white bread contains only 18% of the amount of vitamin B-6 that a slice of whole grain bread contains, and only a quarter of the amount magnesium and fiber.

The bottom line? Whole grains are much more nutrient dense than refined grains. When at the grocery store, do not judge by color alone! Look for products, such as breads, pastas, cereals and crackers, which contain “100% whole grains” or the word “whole” in front of the grain name on the ingredient list. For example, the ingredient label on a box of Cheerios tells us that the product is made from “whole grain oats.” Be cautious – “wheat bread” or “multi-grain crackers” may list  “unbleached enriched wheat flour” first on the ingredient list, which means it’s not made with healthy whole grains!


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