Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on March 3, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
All Foods Fit In Nutritious Diets
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many Americans think eating healthy means giving up their favorite foods, but any kind of food can fit somewhere in a nutritious diet.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension human nutrition specialist at Mississippi State University, said the body needs more than 40 different nutrients from a variety of sources, and no foods are totally off limits in an overall nutritious diet.
"A person who is committed to a nutritious diet can still enjoy their favorite treats, whether it's a banana split or greasy fried chicken. The key to healthy eating is setting limits and making trade-offs," Mixon said.
"For example, if you want to go out to eat and order a treat, plan ahead so you can cut back on your calories at another meal. You can also increase your physical activity to burn extra calories. Just make sure you compensate somewhere else in your diet or lifestyle," Mixon said.
The nutrition specialist explained that the food pyramid is a pictorial guide showing the recommended number of servings from each food group a person should eat daily.
"The food pyramid is useful for helping people decide what to eat, but it's not a rigid prescription because individuals differ in the amount of food and calories they need," Mixon said. "The pyramid also focuses on fat because that's what most Americans eat too much of, especially saturated fat. It also emphasizes the five food groups: the milk, yogurt and cheese group; the meat, poultry, fish and eggs group; the fruit group; the vegetable group; and the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group," Mixon said.
"No single food group is more important than the others, and no one group can provide all of the nutrients needed," Mixon said.
Vegetarians should plan their meals carefully to replace the protein, amino acids, iron, B-vitamins and other nutrients they aren't getting by avoiding meat.
"The food pyramid only suggests a range of servings for each food group. People should make a decision about their personal nutritional needs based on their physical characteristics and lifestyle," she said.
"For example, a small woman who is not very physically active needs less of each group than a large man who is very active. If you eat the smallest amount of suggested servings for each group you will get about 1,600 calories a day. If you eat the larger amount of servings you will get about 2,800 calories a day," Mixon said.
"If you want to lose weight, a 1,600 calorie diet is a safe alternative to fad diets. Although this method of weight loss is not rapid, it has the potential to produce permanent results," she said.
Mixon recommended starting slowly and setting realistic goals when trying to develop more nutritional eating habits.
"Expectations of changing a diet overnight are unrealistic. You will be more likely to stick to and live with long-term goals. Strive for life changes, not just a change that will last a few weeks or months," Mixon said.
Although fat does have a functional role in foods, it can be reduced or eliminated in many dishes.
"Try cooking with herbs and spices instead of oils and butter. Start off slow and experiment to develop healthy seasoning methods that taste good to you," she said.
"Also, plan your meals ahead. Don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry, and have a list made beforehand. These habits can help you economically as well as nutritionally because you will be less likely to buy items you don't need," Mixon said.