Family doctor



THE FOOD GROUPS - a patient's guide


This article outlines the basic food groups of carbohydrates, protein and fats. It also offers recommendations for choosing the healthy options within these groups.


All of the food groups - proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are essential as part of a balanced diet.

Carbohydrates include breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and sugary foods.

Carbohydrates major function is to provide energy in the form of glucose in the working body, both the brain and the heart rely on glucose as their major form of energy. Carbohydrate foods supply a wide range of nutrients, are lower in fat and are excellent sources of dietary fibre.

Which carbohydrate is best?

Nutrient-high carbohydrate foods include: breads, wholegrain cereals, rice, pasta, fruit, and vegetables.

Nutrient -low carbohydrate foods include: soft drink, cordial, sweets, cakes, and biscuits.

New Zealand guidelines suggest that we choose at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day:

Serving size examples


  • 1 medium potato, kumera or similar sized root vegetable such as yam or taro\t
  • 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or mixed salad\t
  • 1 tomato


  • 1 apple, pear, banana, orange
  • 2 small apricot or plums
  • 1/2 cup of fresh fruit salad
  • 1/2 stewed fruit

New Zealand guidelines suggest at least six servings of breads and cereals each day.

Serving size examples
  • 1 roll\t
  • 1 muffin\t
  • 1 medium slice of bread\t
  • 2 cups cornflakes\t
  • 1/2 cup cooked porridge
  • 1 cup cooked pasta
  • I cup cooked rice


Protein foods include meat, fish, chicken, legumes, eggs, nuts, and dairy products.

One of proteins major functions is in the make up of our body cell structure. Proteins are also involved in growth and repair for our body tissue, and are essential for proper immune function.

The lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, beans, and lentils, provide the body with protein, iron, zinc and other nutrients. The body is easily able to absorb the iron in lean meats, chicken and seafood. It cannot so easily absorb the iron in cooked dried beans or lentils.

Include foods rich in vitamin C with your meals to help absorb iron. Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially oranges, kiwifruit, tomatoes and broccoli, are rich sources of vitamin C.

Choose at least one serving from this group each day.

Serving size samples
  • 2 slices cooked meat (approx 100g)\t
  • 1 medium steak (120g)\t
  • 3/4 cup dried, cooked beans
  • 3/4 cup mince or casserole\t
  • 2 drumsticks or 1 chicken leg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 medium fillet of fish

New Zealand guidelines recommend at least two servings of milk or milk products each day, preferably reduced or low fat.

You need milk and milk products for protein and calcium. Choose reduced or low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese. If you are drinking soy milk, choose one which is calcium fortified.

Serving size samples
  • 1 glass of milk (250ml)
  • 2 slices of cheese
  • 1 pottle of yoghurt ( 150g)\t
  • 2 scoops of ice cream


Fat is essential for good health. Functions of fat include the protection of our vital organs, heat insulation, provision of fat soluble vitamins and minerals, and its most obvious function as an energy reserve.

Food contains a mixture of three types of fat, these are, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated.

One type of fat usually dominates in a particular type of food - cream is mainly saturated fat. The main type of fat in avocado is monounsaturated. The different types of fat all contain the same amount of calories or energy and if taken in large amounts can cause weight gain.

Polyunsaturated fats: These do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Good food sources include:

  • Soybean, sunflower, corn, and safflower oils
  • Wheatgerm and wholegrain cereals
  • Fish oils
  • Seeds and walnuts

Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat found mainly in oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, herrings), canola oil, walnuts, and soybean oils. Latest research suggests New Zealanders aren't getting enough of the essential omega-3 nutrients in their diet. The body cannot produce omega-3 and relies on the above food sources to produce them.

Monounsaturated fats: These do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Good sources include:

  • Avocado
  • Canola oil and peanut oil
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Canola or monounsaturated table spread
  • Almonds and hazelnuts

Saturated fats: These raise blood cholesterol levels and should be reduced or avoided. Sources include:

  • Butter, clarified butter\t
  • Cream, sour cream, ice cream
  • Full cream milk\t
  • Processed meat, e.g. luncheon, salami, tinned corn beef, fatty mince
  • Cheeses\t
  • Lard, dripping, chefade
  • White visible fat on meat

The best fats to choose are the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Choose these fats, but use no more than 1-2 tablespoons of fats or oils each day.

See also:

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