Get the Nutrients You Need

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To get needed nutrients, vary your food choices.


Whole Grain Foods

Foods made from grains (like wheat, rice, and oats) help form the base of a nutritious diet. They provide vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber), and substances called phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that are important for good health. Grain products are low in fat, unless fat is added in processing, in preparation, or at the table. These foods are not fattening, unless eaten in excess or if fats (butter, sour cream, etc.) are added to them.

Choose foods that name one of the following ingredients first on the label’s ingredient list:

•  Brown rice

•  Oatmeal

•  Bulgur (cracked wheat)

•  Popcorn

•  Graham flour

•  Pearl barley

•  Whole grain corn

•  Whole oats

•  Whole rye

•  Whole wheat

Try some of these whole grain foods: Whole wheat bread, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal, low-fat whole wheat crackers, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, whole barley in soup, and cracked wheat in tabouli salad.


Refined grains are low in dietary fiber.

Fruits & Vegetables

These foods are nutrient dense. This means that they give a lot of nutrients, but are low in calories. Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, and a variety of phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that may play a role in preventing certain diseases.

Good Sources of Vitamin A (carotenoids). Vitamin A is needed for night vision and helps fight infections.

• Orange vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin

• Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collards, and turnip greens

• Mango; cantaloupe; apricots; and tomatoes

Good Sources of Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps heal wounds and aids iron absorption.

•  Citrus fruits and juices; kiwi fruit; strawberries; cantaloupe

•  Broccoli; peppers; tomatoes; cabbage; and potatoes

•  Leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, turnip greens, and spinach

Good Sources of Folate (a B vitamin). Folate prevents some birth defects and is needed to make red blood cells and for growth.

•  Cooked dry beans and peas; peanuts

•  Oranges and orange juice

•  Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and mustard greens; romaine lettuce; green peas

Good Sources of Potassium. Potassium is needed for fluid balance and helps control activity of heart muscle, kidneys, and nervous system.

•  Baked white or sweet potatoes; cooked greens, such as spinach; winter (orange) squash

•  Bananas; potatoes; dried fruits, such as apricots and prunes; orange juice

•  Lentils; cooked, dry beans, such as baked beans

Guidelines for choosing fruits and vegetables.

•  Strive to eat 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Do not add fat.

•  Also, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Choose from fresh, canned, frozen, etc.

•  Choose fruits and vegetables of different colors, to get a variety of phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Certain plant chemicals have been linked with the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

•  Regularly choose whole or cut up fruits and vegetables over juices. Juices have little or no fiber. Chewing fruits and vegetables takes more time and can be more filling than swallowing juice.

•  Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before using.

•  Refrigerate most fruits and vegetables to retain nutrients. Exceptions are bananas, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. After you cut or peel these, though, put them in the refrigerator.

•  Find ways to include different fruits and vegetables in your meals and snacks.

•  Keep ready-to-eat raw vegetables handy in a clear container in the front of your refrigerator for snacks or meals-on-the-go.

•  Enjoy fruits as a naturally sweet end to a meal.

•  When eating out, choose a variety of vegetables at a salad bar. Another idea is to get your lunch at a produce store. Some have salad bars and sandwiches made to order. All have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from. Wash these at the store’s water fountain before you eat them.

•  When you cook vegetables, do so quickly and in as little water as possible. Some vitamins, like vitamin C, are destroyed when soaked in water and/or overcooked.

Phytochemicals (Plant Chemicals)

What Is Dietary Fiber?

Fiber is a carbohydrate. It does not provide 4 calories per gram that other carbohydrates do because the body does not break down fibers and absorb them. Foods with fiber do, however, have calories. Fiber is found in plant foods. Animal foods do not have fiber.

How Much Fiber Do You Need Each Day?

Daily Reference Values are guidelines for nutrient needs. These are listed on food labels and depend on total caloric intake. The Daily Reference Value (DRV) for fiber is 11.5 grams per 1000 calories. So, if you eat 1200-1300 calories a day, you should aim to get at least 15 grams of fiber per day; at least 18 grams per day for 1500-1600 calories; and at least  20 grams per day for 1800 calories.


Most persons get only 11 to 15 grams of fiber a day. Many health officials advise getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. To get this much fiber when you limit calories, you need to do the following:

• Have whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta instead of white and refined breads, cereals, and pasta.

• Have legumes (beans, etc.) in salads, soups, chili, etc.

• Regularly choose whole fruits over fruit juices.

• Snack on raw vegetables instead of high-fat and high-calorie snacks like chips, cookies, etc.

• Discuss taking fiber supplements with your doctor.

Fiber Content in Foods

The charts below list the estimated dietary fiber content for a variety of foods. Note: Increase fiber gradually. Too much, too soon can cause gas. Also, drink plenty of water when you increase fiber in your diet.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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