Dietary Guidelines Made Simple: How Anyone Can Eat For Good Health

Dietary Guidelines can often be confusing and difficult to follow.  The focus today is to give you simpler ways to eat for good health. Today’s topic will cover:  the six food groups, the most commonly missed nutrients in our daily food intake, and the importance of how we combine our foods at each meal for better health.

To be able to eat for good health, start by following these two steps:

  1. Eat food from all six food groups every day. Each food group provides you with different nutrients that your body needs.
  2. Eat different foods from within each food group every day. By eating several foods from each food group, you increase the variety of nutrients your body needs.  The more color on your plate, the healthier it is.

The following is a list of the six food groups and the general recommended servings from each food group for the average adult.  Keep in mind, that the number of servings needed per person will vary depending upon their gender, age, and activity level.

MILK GROUP (For Calcium):  3 Servings/day  Examples:  Milk – 1 cup; Yogurt – 1 cup, Cheese slices – 1 1/2, Cottage Cheese – 1/2 c

MEAT GROUP (For Iron):  2-3 Servings/day  Examples: Cooked lean meat – 2-3 oz.;  Cooked lean poultry, fish 2-3 oz.;  Egg 1= 1oz.;  Cooked dried peas or beans – 1/2 c = 1 oz.

VEGETABLE GROUP (For Vitamin A):  3-5 servings/day  Examples:  Raw or cooked vegetable – ½ cup; Raw leafy vegetable 1 cup; Potato – 1 medium

FRUIT GROUP (For Vitamin C):  2-4 Servings/day  Examples:  Raw, canned or cooked fruit – ½ cup; Apple, banana, pear – 1 medium; Juice – ¾ cup

GRAIN GROUP (For Fiber):  6-11 servings/day  Examples:  Bread – 1 slice;  English Muffin, Hamburger Bun – 1/2;  Ready to eat cereal – 1 oz.; Pasta, rice, cooked cereal – 1/2 cup;  Tortilla, roll – 1

FATS GROUP (For Satiety):  Fats are needed in our diet yet to be eaten in moderation.   Examples:  butter, margarine, salad dressing, mayonnaise.

Other foods that are considered snacks or desserts tend to be high in fat, sugar and or salt and have less nutritive value, such as sweets, salty snacks, alcohol, and other beverages. These also need to be eaten in moderation not to be in place of  foods from the other food groups.

To simplify things, at each meal (assuming 3 per day) if you were to have a serving of dairy, meat, fruit, vegetable and a minimum of 2 servings of grains in addition to some source of fat to your diet would be balanced and healthy.

Of course there are dietary modifications to be made for food intolerances or sensitivities such as dairy or nut allergies, or personal preferences ( vegetarian, etc.). Work with your dietitian or physician in these instances to create a food plan that fits your needs.

 In the food groups just mentioned, each food group has a benefit listed after the food group name.  For example, Milk Group had “for Calcium”.  The benefits listed are the most commonly missed nutrients in the American diet. Let’s talk about these missed nutrients in a little more detail.


Most Commonly Missed Nutrients

The following is a list of the most commonly missed nutrients in the American diet and some of the food sources that can provide them for us:

Calcium – Milk, Dairy products, Broccoli, Kale, Dried Beans

Vitamin C – Fruits, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts

Vitamin A – Dark Green and Orange Vegetables

Iron – Lean Red Meats and Seafood

You will find these nutrients listed on the bottom third of the nutrition label on purchased food products. The higher the %DV (Percentage of Daily Value) listed for that nutrient in the product, the better!

Not only is it important to eat a variety of foods from each of the Six Food Groups, but also the combination of foods eaten together at each meal.  The way this is done is by categorizing the foods within the six food groups into three macronutrient categories:  carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Combination of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats in Each Meal

The foods in the six food groups fit into the following three macronutrient categories:

Carbohydrates (Starches):  Milk, Yogurt, Grains, Starchy Vegetables (peas, corn, lentils), and Fruits

Proteins:  Meat, Seafood, Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Nuts, Eggs, Tofu, Peas, Lentils

Fats:  Margarine, Butter, Salad dressings, Mayonnaise, Oils

The general recommended distribution of these three macronutrients for a total daily intake is as follows:

Carbohydrates:  50%

Proteins:  20 %

Fats:  30%

So how does one know how much of each to eat in a day or at a meal?

If you eat the recommended servings per food group previously listed, you will have already eaten the distribution of foods for each day. The important thing is that you do combine them at each meal instead of, for example, eating only carbohydrates for breakfast (sweet rolls) or only protein (chicken) for lunch.

But why is this important?

The combination of carbohydrate, protein and fat at each meal will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. This will help you avoid low blood sugars, which cause you to become hungry or get headaches between meals. It will also help you not overeat between meals, consuming more calories than you need.

To provide fuel to carry out its physical activities, your body uses carbohydrates first, which are broken down quickly, then protein, which takes longer to break down, and lastly, fats.  When you omit any of these macronutrients at mealtime, your body does not function as well as it can.

Examples of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat at Mealtimes

Eggs, Toast with Butter, Fruit Yogurt

Half of Bagel with Peanut Butter, Milk and an Orange

Ham Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread with Mayonnaise, Lettuce, and Mozzarella Cheese and Carrot Sticks

Roast Beef with Baked Potato, Sour Cream, Green Beans and Cottage Cheese

Rice, Chicken and Asian Vegetables and Butter and Milk

To summarize, assuming you have three meals a day, it is recommended that at each meal, you have a serving of dairy, meat, fruit, vegetable and a minimum of 2 servings of grains and some fat for it to be balanced and healthy.

Keep in mind the need to choose several different kinds of foods within each of the six food groups to get the variety of nutrients your body needs.  In combining all of these foods together, you are combining carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which will keep you fuller longer while providing you with good nutrition.

Start with one meal and create two or three options.  Then move onto planning the next meal. Soon, eating healthy balanced meals will become a habit. Bravo for your efforts!








Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: She will look forward to meeting you!