Finally Understand Your Food Groups

The scene: My junior year of college; it’s my 2pm intro to nutrition class. I have the most adorable middle aged man for a professor; he bikes to work and doesn’t allow his 9 children to watch TV. This man breathes nutrition. Now cue me, texting my roommate in the seat behind me something along the lines of ‘So Lost. So bored. So over it.’

It’s taken me 5 years of schooling and 3 years of teaching to really wrap my head around nutrition. I think one of the most confusing conversations in nutrition goes something like this:

  • Student: “What food group do beans go in?”
  • Me: “Well, beans are a great source of protein and fiber. They also are a carbohydrate!”
  • Student: “So, which group do I put it in?”

Aha! The biggest source of the problem, right here! Food groups. The reason it took me 8 years to get a real grip on nutrition: food groups. There is a difference between FOOD GROUPS and groups

Food Groups

These may vary a little depending on who you ask. The ‘Food Pyramid’ is old news- ‘MyPlate’ is the new standard for nutrition management that we teach in schools. The categories on that are:

  • Protein [meats, tofu, beans]
  • Grains [pasta, rice, bread]
  • Vegetables [broccoli, carrots, celery]
  • Fruits [apples, oranges, bananas]
  • Dairy [milk, yogurt, cheeses]
  • Fats/Oils [used in preparation/condiments typically]

Food groups are a general way of categorizing foods. This is a good way to introduce someone to balancing their diet.


  • Carbohydrates: [sources include bagels, beans, bread, pasta, fruits]
  • Protein: [sources include meats, tofu, beans, dairy products]
  • Fats: [sources include dairy products, fried foods, olive oil, avocado, nuts]
  • Vitamins & Minerals: [sources include fruits and vegetables]
  • Water

Think of nutrients like the ‘health factor’ in certain foods. Most foods will contain multiple nutrients- even though they will fit in one primary ‘food group’. Let’s look at some examples:

Cream Cheese: Food Group = Dairy. Good source of nutrients like protein and fat.

Peanuts: Food Group = Protein. Good source of protein and fat.

Apple: Food Group = Fruit. Good source of carbohydrates and vitamins.

Maybe right now you’re shaking your head thinking, ‘Uh- yeah. Duh.’ But for me, this was never truly spelled out and I think it makes all the difference. To quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

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One thought on “Finally Understand Your Food Groups

  1. Hey, I’m with you on the whole not-understanding-nutrition-class thing. Unfortunately, my teacher was not nearly as nice, understandable, or helpful as yours sounded, so I was doubly confused; maybe it was simply the way they were required to teach it?

    I liked how you made it simple in this post; I will be sure to refer to this again if I’m ever in doubt! Thanks for posting!


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