The basic food groups vary depending on the dietary guidelines with which they are being associated. The government, for example, makes different food group categories for certain meal plans designed to prevent heart disease or high blood pressure. In a general sense, however, the basic food groups can generally be broken down into five or six categories; this includes grain, meat and fish, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes an additional category made up of oils, fats and sugars, and "discretionary calories."
The purpose of the basic food groups, and the often referenced Food Pyramid provided by the USDA, is to give people an idea, at a glance, of how much of each type of food they should be consuming each day for optimum health. The basic food groups are then broken down into serving sizes for the items in each group, so a certain number of servings is generally recommended per day.
The largest of the basic food groups typically include the grains, vegetables, and fruit groups. This means that one should aim to eat most foods throughout the day from those three food groups. Whole grains are recommended, because these contain fiber; white bread, for example, is not a good choice because it contains white processed flour that the body converts to sugar and fat. A variety of fruits and vegetables is the best choice; experts often recommend eating vegetables in as many different colors as possible.
The protein groups, which are sometimes broken down into meat and fish, or meat and beans, as well as the dairy group, make up the rest of the daily food groups. It is recommended that one eat less from these three groups than the ones mentioned above. Leaner proteins and meats, such as chicken and fish, are recommended more than beef. Products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt make up the dairy group.
While not usually considered one of the food groups, the category of foods made up of "junk" food is often mentioned as well. These foods should be eaten in moderation or not at all, and are generally high in certain oils as well as fat and sugar. This group may also be referred to as discretionary calories. The rules of the basic food groups do not need to be strictly followed in order to be healthy, and those with specific health problems may require certain variations, but they do provide helpful general guidelines as to a healthy diet and eating plan.