There are so many wonderful options when selecting your fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Use the food lists in this toolkit to explore new food items that you and your family have never tried. Aim for variety within each food category. Each food grouping provides a unique combination of phytochemicals and nutrients.
Fruit & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables (produce) can easily be split into categories based on color. Each color category represents a different combination of vitamins and minerals. While boosting your intake of dark green and red vegetables is highly recommended, there are nutritional benefits in each color category of fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods contain phytonutrients (“phyto” means plant in Greek), which offer an additional boost in nutritional value. Phytonutrients are believed to keep your body working properly and lower your risk for chronic diseases.
Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables is encouraged, but that is not always an option. If that is the case, don’t worry. You can opt for frozen or canned choices. When selecting frozen produce, check labels and choose brands with no ingredients added to the fruit or vegetables if possible. When selecting canned produce, look for low-sodium or no salt added vegetables, and fruit in light syrup or juice. Rinse your canned vegetable with water first to remove excess salt if necessary.
These vegetables pack the most nutrition for the lowest cost.
Starchy (high carbohydrate content)
Replace iceberg lettuce with an alternative leafy green such as Mixed Greens, Spinach, Romaine or Kale. Iceberg lettuce contains significantly fewer nutrients as compared to these other lettuce varieties. Again, individuals taking anticoagulant medicine to help thin blood (e.g. Coumadin®) should ask their physicians about the best lettuce choice for their particular situation.
*If you are taking anticoagulant medicine to help thin blood (e.g. Coumadin®), be sure to ask your physician about these foods because some of them can interact negatively with your medication.
There are no fruits that are “bad” for you. Fruits contain a natural sugar called “fructose”, which is not the same as high fructose corn syrup, a processed sugar. Each fruit provides a unique set of vitamins and minerals, so aim to consume a variety of different fruits.
*Taking medication? Ask your doctor about grapefruit.
Don’t overdo dried fruit – it has LOTS of sugar! One serving equals ¼ cup. A 1/2 cup of dried fruit is equivalent to a 1 cup serving of fresh fruit.
A grain can be an excellent source of fiber, depending on the way it is processed. When selecting a grain option, choose whole grains over refined, which have been stripped of several layers of nutrients (bran and germ). Refined grain options include plain white rice, white flour and white bread. As you prepare your own meals, strive to incorporate whole grains, such as the following choices, onto your plate as sides for lean protein and vegetables.
There are many different types of animal-based and plant-based proteins. Both have a variety of benefits and can help provide the optimal nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Animal-based proteins range from lean to medium/high-fat options. It is recommended to consume lean animal-based protein. If you choose to consume animal-based products, aim to consume less than one serving per week of medium/high-fat animal-based protein sources.
An animal-based protein is considered to be a “complete” protein source because it includes all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Research has shown that plant-based proteins can be a healthy alternative, as long as they provide all of the nutrients necessary for optimal health. A majority of plant-based proteins are considered “incomplete”; however, by combining certain plant-based proteins like legumes and whole grains or nuts/seeds, you can create a “complete” protein.
If you opt to eat deli meat on a regular basis, look for low-sodium varieties. Additionally, try to limit cured meats such as sausage, pastrami, pepperoni, ham and bacon due to the high sodium content. Instead, select a roasted chicken or turkey option that can be sliced for sandwiches or chopped into pieces for salads.
Fish and shellfish provide protein, are low in saturated fat, rich in many micronutrients, and provide certain omega-3 fatty acids that the body cannot make and are important for normal growth and development.
Twice a week
Women and children should eat two to three servings (8-12 ounces for adults and children over age 10, smaller amounts for younger children) of a variety of fish and shellfish each week. Go to www.epa.gov for specific recommendations.
Both wild-caught and farm-raised are excellent choices. Florida produces over 80 varieties of wild-caught and farm-raised products.
|Fish higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury
|Think beyond the fish fillet
Beans & Peas
Beans and peas (legumes) are unique foods that are considered both a vegetable and a protein source, making them a great substitute for meat. They are also an excellent source of fiber and contain other nutrients such as iron, zinc, potassium, and folate.
Eggs are a powerhouse of perfect nutrition. They are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, packed with protein, and only about 70 calories each. Eggs make a great addition to many nutritious dishes and meals! Check out these great recipes from www.eggnutritioncenter.org.
Soy is a high quality, plant-based protein that is often found in foods as a replacement for meat, or to just boost the protein. Because it is a plant product, soy is low in calories and contains no cholesterol.
- Protein bars, drinks, and snacks
- Soy burgers or meat crumbles
- Soy milk, yogurt, cheese
|Nuts & Seeds
Dairy is one of the primary food groups included on MyPlate because it is an excellent source of calcium, which helps to build strong bones and aids in the body’s absorption of Vitamin D. Many of the foods that are high in calcium fall into the dairy category; however, there are other choices if you are unable or choose not to consume dairy. Other foods that contain high amounts of calcium include: collard greens, kale, soy, sardines, fortified orange juice, fortified milk alternatives and fortified cereals.
Recommended Dairy Choices
- Milk (non-fat/skim, 1% or 2%)
- Dry milk (non-fat/skim, 1% or 2%)
- Soy milk
- Yogurt (low-fat or Greek)
- Low-fat cheese (colby, monterey, mozzarella, cottage cheese, ricotta, queso blanco, feta and reduced-fat cheese options)
Non-Recommended Dairy Choices
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- High-fat cheese (processed cheese slices, mascarpone, cheddar, parmesan, brie and goat cheese)
- High-fat yogurt
As many individuals forgo dairy due to gastrointestinal or personal reasons, there has been a rise in the availability of dairy-alternative beverages.
Below is a table comparison of the nutritional values of these dairy alternatives.
*Information gathered from USDA Supertracker, CalorieKing and Nutrition Facts Panels
Fats are considered to be an essential macronutrient that has many functions. This macronutrient often receives a negative reputation as being “bad for you”; however, there are healthy and unhealthy fat sources. A healthy fat source is considered one that is composed of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids. These fat choices are often liquid at room temperature based on their higher levels of MUFA and PUFA. On the other hand, an unhealthy fat source is composed of high levels of saturated fat (SFA) and trans-fat (TFA). These fat choices are often solid at room temperature based on their higher levels of SFA and TFA. For optimal heart health, strive to consume more healthy fats than unhealthy fats. It is important to remember that fat is not bad. It is good in moderation, as with every other nutrient.
Healthier Fat Choices
(High in MUFA/PUFA)
Less Healthy Fat Choices
(high in SFA/TFA)
Less Healthy Fat Choices
(high in SFA/TFA)
Butter Pork fat/lard
Coconut oil Shortening
Palm oil Stick margarine
Partially hydrogenated oils
A well-stocked pantry makes quick meal and snack preparation easier. Keep a variety of the following foods on hand for simple and fast meals throughout the week.
- Proteins: Canned tuna, canned chicken, canned beans (kidney, pinto, black), peanut butter
Vegetables: Stock your favorite canned or frozen vegetables. Green beans, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce are good to keep on hand for simple meals.
- Grains: Oatmeal, pasta, rice, quinoa, flour, bread crumbs (choose whole grains for a healthier choice)
- Other canned and dry goods: Low-sodium soups and broths, canned or dried fruits, crackers, quick bread mixes (whole grain muffins) etc.
- Stock the fridge: With eggs, milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, bagged salad and condiments like ketchup, mustard, and salsa.
- Make your own meals: With freezer foods like ground meat and chicken breasts. Freeze cooked meat and ready to cook casseroles for easy and fast meal preparation.
Spices, seasonings, flavor enhancers
- Oregano, basil, and parley are great additions to tomato or Italian-style dishes.
- Cumin and chili powder are favorites used in Mexican-style dishes.
- Other flavor enhancers to keep on hand include vanilla extract, lemon juice, salt and pepper.