Like petrol to a car, food is fuel to human beings. Unlike an automobile, however, humans also rely on fuel as a source of raw resources for building and maintaining themselves. Hence, while it is possible to subsist on nothing but chocolate bars for a time, the lack of certain nutrients (and the abundance of others) will cause a terrible imbalance and health problems if allowed to continue.
In general, food falls into five categories of food groups which can generally be used as a basic guide to nutrition and the planning of meals. Food groups indicate good sources for particular nutrients and vitamins a body needs. For example, meat products are generally regarded as the best forms of protein. But it’s important to note that they aren’t the only form. Vegetarians and others who are either unable or choose not to eat meat can also get protein from nuts, certain vegetables and more. Nevertheless, they form a good starting point for an understanding of the topic of nutrition.
The five food groups then are:
Carbohydrates generally break down into sugars in the body and serve as the key source of fuel the body needs. They can be found in a huge range of different foods typically based on grains, legumes and beans. This incudes wheat and breads, which are good sources of carbohydrates, as well as chickpeas, rice and potatoes.
Carbohydrates are often a big culprit behind obesity and related diseases. This is because, due to the cooking method and the sort of carbohydrates used, they can easily provide an abundance of energy which, unused by the body, may be turned into fat. Sugar is rapidly becoming the hidden danger for those attempting to lose weight. They often tend to make up the biggest part of a typical meal and are generally the first thing to cut down on when making a plan for proper nutrition.
Fruits and Vegetables
When nutritionists make recommendations to their patients almost without fail the instruction to eat more fruit and vegetables comes up. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of key vitamins and minerals a body needs for maintaining and building everything from cells to organs. They also provide essential fibres which help to clean out the inside of the digestive system.
That said, fruits still contain sugars and, while it’s always healthier to have an orange, than a chocolate bar the excess sugars can, in larger quantities have a detrimental effect, so restraint is still needed in the case of some fruits.
Generally a food group with a smaller intake, dairy products such as milk do provide significant amounts of calcium that are important for strong bones and teeth. However, most dairy products such as cheese, cream and even ice cream include significant amounts of fat and/or sugar and thus it is often advised that consumption of these products be carefully monitored.
Meat and Fish
Meat and fish is the most efficient way for the human body to absorb proteins and many other essential nutrients. The compact nature of meat means a lot of useful material can be compressed into a relatively small amount of food. This, however, is often a leading cause of problems as it is very easy to overeat meat and take on more than you can reasonably use.
Fats and sugars are both needed by the body, indeed the overwhelming mass of the human brain is made up of fat. However minimal amounts of both are needed for smooth operation of the body. The trouble is that many foods in the modern world are heavily loaded with fats which is something that has contributed heavily to increases in obesity throughout the western world.
The Use of Food Groups in Nutrition
Admittedly, thinking in terms of “Food Groups” is a comparatively vague way of explaining food. Even within food groups, there is a huge difference in nutrition between a fatty pork chop and a grilled fish for example in terms of what is good to eat.
Nevertheless, a lot of a nutritionists' work is involved in making the complicated science in food understandable by people with little or no previous backing in the topic. While food groups are a very simplistic way of looking at the huge variety of foods out there, they are a great way to help clients and patients start looking at food in a healthier way.