Healthy eating is smart eating.

5 Main Types of Healthy Food

by Karen Curinga

Meal planning for moms and mothers-to-be can be challenging. With five main types of healthy foods to choose from, however, an abundant variety of nutritious fare is available. A diet made up of the five major healthy food types provides a range of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat. By familiarizing yourself with the different healthy food types, you can help ensure that your family is receiving the vital nutrients necessary for maintaining optimal health.

1. Vegetables and Legumes

Vegetables provide important nutrients for the health and maintenance of your body. Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol. They're packed with vitamins like folate, which aids in the formation of red blood cells and is important for women of childbearing age who may become pregnant. In addition, vegetables are rich in vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyes and skin, and vitamins C and E -- powerful antioxidants that protect your body against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells. Dietary fiber in vegetables helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease and prevent constipation. Include leafy greens, beans, lentils, chickpeas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, red cabbage and other vegetables in your food plan.

2. Fruits

While vegetables are king when it comes to nutritional benefits, fruits also contain many valuable nutrients. Fruits, like vegetables, are low in fat, packed with fiber, but typically contain more calories than vegetables. They're also loaded with vitamins such as vitamin A, folate, which helps prevent some birth defects, and vitamin C, which aids in developing connective tissue, healing wounds and providing support to blood vessel walls. Include fruits like avocados, bananas, berries, grapes, papayas, cantaloupe and citrus fruits and juices in your daily diet to ensure that you get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.

3. Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, corn and the foods made from them, are an important part of a healthy diet. These complex carbohydrates are fiber rich and are naturally low in fat. In addition, they're full of healthful nutrients like B vitamins, which help convert food into energy, and vitamin E, which may protect against prostate cancer. Whole grains also contain minerals like copper, which helps make red blood cells; magnesium, which is needed for chemical reactions in your body; manganese, which helps form bones; potassium, which maintains a steady heartbeat; and selenium, which acts as an antioxidant.

4. Protein

Every cell in your body contains protein. It's the major component of skin, muscles, organs and glands. All body fluids, except bile and urine, contain protein. Your body needs protein to repair cells and transport nutrients. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, protein is crucial for cell division and reproduction, as well as growth and development during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. It's found in fish; in animal sources, such as poultry, meat, dairy and eggs; and in plant sources, which include beans, legumes, peas, nuts, seeds, soy and some grain products.

5. Dairy

Low-fat diary foods are part of a healthy diet. They're rich in calcium, which is important in the development of healthy bones and teeth. Most milk is fortified with vitamin D that helps the small intestines absorb calcium. Dairy products contain protein; vitamin B-12, which protects nerve cells and may lower the risk of heart disease; and vitamin K, which activates proteins and calcium essential to blood clotting. According to Harvard Medical School, dairy foods like milk also contain magnesium, which helps regulate blood pressure; phosphorus, which helps build and protect bones and teeth; and potassium, which is needed for muscle contractions. Eating fermented -- or probiotic -- dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir, helps re-establish a healthy bacterial balance in your digestive tract.

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