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Add Variety to your Food Groups

By Dawn (Dailidenas) Jae, MSN candidate, reviewed by Dr. Cynthia Bartok, PhD, RD, and Cynthia Lair, CHN | Feb 10, 2015, 11:29 a.m.
Bastyr University's Healthy Plate

Keeping up with current nutrition advice can be a daunting task. The latest diets and current trends dictating which foods to include or avoid can make healthy eating confusing at best! During the 1980s, many people believed fats were “bad,” and with the new millennia carbohydrates became “bad.” Today gluten and dairy are out while coconut oil and avocados are in. And don’t forget protein, everyone’s favorite macronutrient!

Despite all of these trends that focus on eliminating entire food groups or severely restricting food choices, research confirms again and again that a balance of foods and inclusion of all macronutrients will bring the best nutrition – the more varied the diet, the better. Too much or too little of anything is not the best for your body, but finding the right balance and combination of foods can be somewhat of a mystery.

The Bastyr Healthy Plate model (shown here) is a resource you can use to evaluate your balance of foods at each meal. Understanding why each food group is needed for health can help you make the best decision for your body based on science rather than the latest fad. With this tool you can tailor your choices to fit your own preferences. You can use this tool to make meal choices and feel confident you are eating a well-balanced diet without restricting entire food groups.

Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body needs to remain healthy and fight disease. Choosing a variety of colors helps to maximize their benefit.

Whole grains such as brown rice, oats and quinoa along with starchy vegetables such as potatoes and squash provide important sources of fiber along with carbohydrates that primarily serve as a fuel source for the body.

Healthy fats work to keep your cells healthy and protected. Focusing on fats from plant sources such as nuts, avocados and olive oil as well as fatty fish will help you reduce the risk of heart disease.

• Everyone loves protein these days! Protein provides the essential building blocks for healthy muscles. Good sources of protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and poultry. These foods have everything you need to build and maintain healthy muscles.

• A component of the Bastyr Healthy Plate that may be new for some people is that of digestives in the form of fermented foods. These provide important components for gut health. A small amount at each meal can help aid digestion and keep a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

Eating a variety of whole foods at each meal will provide you with the necessary nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals and will include the macronutrients needed for the varied functions in your body. When diets omit entire food groups or encourage dramatic reduction in macronutrients such as carbohydrates or fats, important components necessary for your body’s function are missing. Each component is vital to your overall health. By including every food group and every macronutrient in your meal choices, you are likely to get the nutrition you need in the right balance. Including an assortment of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods will help improve your overall health, taste delicious and provide interesting choices, making it a sustainable way of eating.

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