Basic food groups and their nutrients

Basic food groups and their nutrients

We all want to enjoy good nutrition and we know that to achieve this goal we need information about the foods we consume daily. As a result of this need, the classification by food groups was created, so we can manage certain basic knowledge about our daily diet (what food provides us, how much we should consume of each group and how to combine the groups with each other). In this way, we are provided with the design of a balanced menu adjusted to our particular health, economic, geographic and taste needs.

Thinking about this, in RecetaGratis we bring you a very interesting and complete article, in which we explain what are the basic food groups and their nutrients so you get more out of your daily diet. A great article to teach kids about eating!

The 7 food groups and their importance

Nutrition is the process by which our body separates, absorbs and uses the substances that make up food To use them for energy, plastic and / or regulatory purposes, that is, the body performs essential physiological functions to live thanks to these substances. Since the components that make up food are vital (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water), it is logical the need to know them very well. For this reason, the idea of ​​ordering food in groups arises, in order to have a practical and didactic guide, which serves to design a balanced diet for the entire population.

Graphically, this classification is represented in a wheel, which shows the seven food groups and some very relevant information about them, such as the similarity in nutritional aspect and composition. However, as this representation there are many others: Nova System of Brazil (which shows a conceptual innovation), Trompo Alimenticio de Venezuela (a version of the pyramid), the Nutritional Pyramid or the Healthy Food Pyramid, etc. Perhaps the most popular of all, currently, is the Nutritional Pyramid, which is very similar conceptually to the wheel, but with some additional information and some variants. At the moment, it is used more frequently worldwide, in fact it even serves as inspiration for other more recent versions. This pyramid divides and unites the different food groups to establish what would be a proper and healthy diet. It usually has five levels, in which you can see foods belonging to different groups.

It is interesting to mention that all these representations are so didactic that both adults and children can understand them. Here we show a simple pyramid with food groups and the recommendations of different official organizations, such as the WHO.

Basic food groups and their nutrients - The 7 food groups and their importance

Food group 1: milk and derivatives

Foods classified as plastics, builders or repairers. The main components of this category are proteins and fats or lipids (the higher the percentage of fat in the protein, the greater the energy power), followed by carbohydrates (lactose and galactose), vitamins (A and E), minerals and even some probiotics. The following foods are included in this group:

  • Milk. It contains mostly water, a good dose of carbohydrates, as well as abundant vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin A, some B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium), proteins of high biological value and fats.
  • Yogurt. This dairy product is characterized by its probiotic properties: it protects the immune system and relieves digestive diseases. Furthermore, it mainly contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorous and zinc.
  • cheese. This product has a nutritional value very similar to that provided by milk, however, it contains more fats (mainly saturated) and therefore more calories. The more dehydrated the cheese is (the more compact and less water), the more nutrients it will provide.
  • Butter. This dairy mainly provides fat (80% are saturated fats), 400 different fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E, B12 and K2. For its nutrients, the WHO recommends butter consumption but moderate, since this food also belongs to group 7, that is, to the group of fats.
  • Ice cream. Its components are milk, sugar and cream (or butter). This food is mainly energetic due to its high content of fats and sugars, although there are also light versions, such as the light fruit ice cream and yogurt that we show in this recipe.

Food group 2: meat, fish and eggs

Foods whose function is to stand out in this category plastic, construction or repair, as in the previous food group. The products of this classification stand out for their great content of proteins (16-22%) of high biological value, fats, abundant iron and vitamins of group B.


This includes red and white meats, from various types of livestock and poultry, and classified as follows:

  • High biological value: poultry, beef and pork (all have almost the same protein content, but have different amounts of fat).
  • Less fat: cattle, horse, chicken (skinless), turkey and rabbit.
  • Rich in iron and vitamins of the group B: certain viscera, specifically liver, kidneys and heart.


These products are made with meat, fat, dressings, and a modest amount of carbohydrates. It is interesting to mention that the sausages contain meat and fat that come from various parts of the animal, the proportion of which varies according to the recipe of its manufacturer.


This meat source is rich in essential amino acids and proteins. In fact, it is considered the quintessential protein pattern. The nutrients of the egg are distributed as follows:

  • clear: Contains proteins (ovalbumin) and several of the nine essential amino acids.
  • Bud: Provides fat (cholesterol) and micronutrients (vitamins A, B2, B12, D and E and minerals such as iron).

Fish and shellfish (shellfish and molluscs)

The healthiest fats in group 2 are found in fish and chicken eggs. If it is fish, the blue or fatty ones are richer in omega 3, in addition to other healthy fats. Seafood and its nutrients can be divided as follows:

  • Fish: rich in phosphorus, sodium, iodine, potassium, iron, abundant omega 3 and a lot of protein, but in a lower proportion than in molluscs. In addition, the skeleton of the fish stands out for its large amount of calcium, while its skin, scales and bones provide abundant collagen.
  • Shellfish: they stand out for their richness in zinc, copper and calcium. In addition, they contain a high percentage of protein and cholesterol (both in greater quantity than in fish).

Basic food groups and their nutrients - Food group 2: meat, fish and eggs

Food group 3: potatoes, legumes and nuts

Foods are classified in this group whose function is plastic and energetic. The most notable nutrients in this area are carbohydrates (fast energy), vitamins (especially vitamin E and B vitamins), minerals (mostly iron and calcium), low biological content vegetable proteins, fiber and healthy fats (acids monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Group 3 is made up of the following foods:

  • Tubers. These foods stand out for their important contribution of carbohydrates, of which 18% are made up of starches, and a significant content of potassium. Some foods in this subgroup are sweet potato, cassava and potato.
  • Vegetables. Within this subcategory we find nutritional contributions such as vitamins, minerals, a high content of carbohydrates, vegetable proteins of low biological value, although if they are combined with cereals they are transformed into vegetable proteins of high biological value, and fiber, mostly soluble. Some legumes are: beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, carob and peanuts (generally considered a dry fruit due to the way it is served, but it really is a legume), among others.
  • Nuts. They mainly provide healthy fats such as omega 3 and minerals. In addition, in less quantity, they provide quality carbohydrates and proteins. Some dried fruits are: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, chestnuts, among others.

Food group 4: greens and vegetables

Here food meets a regulatory function. These products are plants grown to be eaten raw or prepared, whose caloric content is very low in relation to their great contribution in essential nutrients. The main nutritional components of this food group are vitamins, minerals and fiber (mostly soluble). It also contains a large amount of water and a low percentage of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is recommended to consume this group regularly and here are some foods of this classification:

  • Spinach, watercress, Swiss chard, kale, lettuce and parsley: they contain abundant iron.
  • Red and green peppers and carrot: they provide vitamins A and C.
  • Sweet potatoes, spinach and thistle: provide potassium.

Basic food groups and their nutrients - Food group 4: greens and vegetables

Food group 5: fruits

This food group is assigned the regulatory foods. This category stands out for its high content of water and sugars, mostly with a low caloric index. In addition, they share all the properties of group 4 (greens and vegetables).

Fruits are characterized by their fleshy consistency, which makes them suitable for consumption raw (some can be eaten in the shell and others cannot). This group is recommended to consume it daily, being some foods in this category the following:

  • Orange, tomato, strawberry, grapefruit and kiwi: they provide abundant vitamin C.
  • Peach, plum, melon and cherries: rich in vitamin A.
  • Banana, avocado and watermelon: Contain potassium.

There are many more fruits that exist and all of them provide important nutrients. For this reason, including them in our diet on a daily basis is more than recommended. If you are wondering if these foods can be consumed at night, don't miss this article: "Is it good to eat fruit at night?".

Basic food groups and their nutrients - Food group 5: fruits

Food group 6: cereals, derivatives, sugars and sweets

Foods that meet this classification are assigned energy function (like fats). This set provides a high percentage of fast energy, which comes from its rich carbohydrate sources, both simple (sugars) and complex. In addition, the integral products of this group provide a lot of fiber and micronutrients (mainly phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins). In this category we can mention the following products:

  • Cereals: the composition of cereals varies depending on whether we are talking about refined or whole grains. Refined cereals contain sugars (such as cane sugar or honey) and fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, that is, it provides a part of trans fat). In addition, during the refining process they lose nutrients, but manufacturers commonly compensate for this deficit by enriching them with vitamins and minerals. Instead, whole grain breakfast cereals retain their vitamins (group B and vitamin E) and minerals (iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium and phosphorous). Cereals are commonly made with a single cereal or a combination of several (wheat, corn, rice, oats, rye or barley), in a refined or integral version.
  • Bread: This food contains mainly carbohydrates and a large part of water. In a smaller quantity, it provides proteins (including gluten), fats, B vitamins (B1, B2 and B6) and minerals (phosphorus, magnesium and potassium). However, bread made with refined flour loses many nutrients, unlike bread made with whole wheat flour. Finally, it is interesting to note that, although wheat bread is the most common, you can also find versions prepared with other cereals (corn, rice, among others), therefore, nutritional contributions will vary depending on the type of cereal. See How to make homemade bread to make it at home.
  • Pasta: Generally, it comes from durum wheat, which is processed to obtain semolina used to prepare this food. However, pasta is not only made from wheat, whose whole presentation is more nutritious. Currently, you can also find corn paste, rice, rye and other varieties of cereals. The nutrients in the pasta? They depend essentially on the type of cereal, but if it is wheat, they are basically the same compounds that exist in bread.
  • Sweet: Although they have a high energy value, their nutritional contribution is poor (low in vitamins and minerals). In addition, they contain many saturated fats, which are not especially beneficial for the body. However, there are healthy versions made from wholemeal flours, sweeteners, seeds, etc., which allow for more nutritious desserts. Some sweet foods are cakes, cupcakes, muffins, etc.

Basic food groups and their nutrients - Food group 6: cereals, derivatives, sugars and sweets

Food group 7: fats, oils and butter

The last of the basic food groups. Foods that meet this group are assigned energy function. This set mainly provides a high percentage of carbohydrates (fast energy) and some fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). The nutritional base of this category are fats or lipids, which fulfill several vital organic functions, since they form part of the structure of the membranes and are part of the brain's main food together with carbohydrates, among other functions. There are two types of fats (depending on their origin), animal and vegetable fats, which in turn are divided into:

  • Saturated fats: butter, butter, beef, organ meats or whole dairy. Excessive consumption of these fats raises LDL cholesterol, which is unfavorable for the cardiovascular system. It is recommended that the intake of saturated fats does not exceed 10% of the total calories, thus ensuring a reduction in trans fatty acids. Do not miss our selection of natural juices to lower cholesterol.
  • Unsaturated fats, which are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated: vegetable oils (olive, sesame, corn, soy, peanut, sunflower, etc.), margarines (they go through a process of hydrogenation associated with trans fats), nuts, fatty fish ( salmon, sardines, etc.). These types of fats reduce total cholesterol and LDL.
  • Trans fat (AGT): they are unsaturated fatty acids that form from an industrial hydrogenation process, devised with the purpose of transforming liquid oil into solid fat. According to studies, fats can also occur naturally in polygastric animals (cows, goats and sheep), within the rumen (fermentation chamber that ruminants have). From there, trans fat is absorbed by the animal's gastric system to pass to its muscles and milk (in small amounts). The WHO recommends consuming only 1% of trans fats daily, since, like saturated fats, they can cause cardiovascular problems. The foods that contain this type of fat mainly belong to group 6, however, they are also contained in other groups, but very scarcely. Some products with trans fats are industrial pastries, cakes, cookies, among many others.

Water, calorie drinks and soft drinks

Although there are officially seven food groups (if we use the graphic representation of the wheel), this additional group is informally mentioned, consisting of water, calorie drinks and soft drinks. Thus, this group includes water as a central element, since it is essential for humanity and the life of the planet in general, and some other liquids. Water and some drinks from this possible group provide minerals and antioxidants, very important for the organism. Other drinks, on the other hand, only contain a high percentage of sugars (carbohydrates). Some of the elements of this classification would be the following:

  • Water: natural mineral, spring, prepared drinking, among etc.
  • Caloric drinks, that is, without calories: tea, coffee and infusions.
  • Refreshing drinks: soft drinks, soft drinks, juices, flavored water, etc.

If you want to know more about food and its classification, don't miss the article on Food classification, in which we show you all the groups that exist.

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  • Ballesteros, M.N., Vásquez, L. S., Valenzuela-Calvillo, Artalejo, E., Ochoa, A. E., & Robles-Sardin. (February 2012). Hospital Nutrition. March 03, 2020, from the Food and Development Research Center.
  • Alvarez, J., & Peláez, N .. (March 03, 2020). Food groups. March 03, 2020, from the Diabetes Foundation.
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