As a child, I was taught that my meals needed to come from 4 simple food groups: grains, seafood/meats (including beans), dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), and fruits/vegetables. Since then, the USDA has issued numerous versions of ideal meal plans, including the Food Pyramid, and its latest incarnation, MyPlate. Even with all of the changes, the recommended food groups have remained relatively the same (fat made an appearance in the Pyramid, but was removed in MyPlate). Yet, there is continued debate as to whether the grains group (i.e. carbohydrates) should be included as part of a routine diet.
Contributing to this debate is the number of diets who reduce the amount of grains / carbohydrates consumed as a quick means of losing weight. In recent years, these diets have exploded in the market, causing even more confusion for the public as to what is considered "healthy." One such diet that continues to gain popularity is the Paleo Diet, a meal plan based on what cavemen ate thousands of years ago. The belief is that each meal should include lots of fatty meat or fish, vegetables, and fruit, but minimal amounts of grains/carbohydrates, beans, and dairy.
The truth: While a diet high in fruit and vegetables may help to reduce high cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease, a balanced diet of all food groups is ideal to maintain overall nutrition status. In addition to fruit and vegetables, whole grains (e.g. whole wheat bread) have also been shown to improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean Diet--which emphasizes whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meats--is commonly seen as the most sensible and healthful diet to follow because of its proven benefits to reduce the risk of various health problems, including cancer and heart disease.
Foods in the dairy group are crucial to bone health. Milk, cheese, and yogurt have ample amounts of calcium that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is good for teeth, the heart, muscles, and nerves. In addition, calcium increases bone mass, which is especially important for children and women. It may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that can contribute to bone fractures. For people who are lactose intolerant, beans are great sources of calcium. This "superfood" is also high in fiber and protein and low in fat. An accessible and inexpensive food, beans are an easy and affordable choice for everyone.
Perhaps the biggest issue should not really be whether we eat grains/carbohydrates, but the amount that we consume on a daily basis. Portions served in restaurants are typically at least twice the recommended amount a person needs in a day. As a result, we experience overconsumption of carbohydrates and foods high in fat. To maintain a healthy weight, it is important to exercise portion control while still consuming some carbohydrates. Keep in mind that one serving of grain = ½ cup of rice or pasta, 1 cup of dry cereal, or 1 slice of bread. Check with the USDA's website Choosemyplate.gov for specific recommendations on how many servings of carbohydrate your body needs in a day. Eating a variety of foods, including grains/carbohydrates, will help contribute to a healthy diet, providing you with vitamins and minerals and helping you meet your goal weight
Rhea Li is a Registered Dietitian who received her Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas. She has a special interest in working with children and has received her certification in pediatric weight management. Currently, she is working on a research study to determine the importance of nutrition in pediatric cancer patients. In the past, she has worked with pregnant women and their children. In her spare time, she enjoys being with family, exercising, traveling and of course, eating. To contact Rhea, please visit dazzlingdietitian.blogspot.com or her Twitter account, Rhea_Li.