Variety through Food Groups

The best approach to healthy eating is to eat a wide variety of foods. This goes for everyone, whether you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes - and even if you don’t have diabetes. No single food group can provide you with all the nutrients your body needs.

Your body requires nutrients to repair and replace proteins, tissues, and cells throughout your body and to keep you rolling along. Your body needs three important nutrients to do this: protein, carbohydrate, and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals. Various combinations of these nutrients are found in different foods. So, by eating a variety of foods, you are sure to get all the nutrients you need. This is much better than taking vitamin supplements, because nature combines the needed nutrients in food in a way that your body can best use them.

Where can you find the nutrients you need?  Healthy sources of carbohydrates (starches and sugars) include cereals, whole grains, pasta, bread, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and milk products. Protein can be found in meat, milk products, poultry, eggs, and fish. There is also a smaller amount of protein in grains, bread, nuts, and vegetables. You can find fat in meat, milk products, oils, and nuts.

Just about all foods provide your body with energy. The amount of energy they provide is measured in calories. Any foods that are not used as energy are stored as fat in your body.

The trick is to try to balance the total number of calories you take in with the total number you burn up. Carbohydrates and proteins provide about the same amount of energy - 4 calories per gram. Fats provide more than twice that amount - 9 calories per gram. So if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, proteins and carbohydrates give you fewer calories per bite than high-fat foods. A high-fat diet can also put you at greater risk for developing heart disease and certain cancers.

Think about the different food groups when you are plan ning your meals.

  •   Fats and sweets: Eat small amounts of these foods, and choose healthier, unsaturated fats when possible. Limit foods with saturated and trans fats.
  •   Beans, meat, eggs, and dairy products: Eat slightly more of these foods, but choose lower-fat versions.
  •   Vegetables, fruits, cereals, grains, pastas, and breads: Choose most of your foods from the whole-grain carbohydrate, fruit, and vegetables groups. These foods are loaded with nutrition, providing easily used energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also tend to be lower in calories than foods in the other groups.

Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robert M. Anderson, EdD
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Shereen Arent, JD
National Director of Legal Advocacy
American Diabetes Association

American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes

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