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Penn Highlands Announces: March is National Nutrition Month

March 18, 2024

Author:  Penn Highlands Healthcare

Penn Highlands Announces: March is National Nutrition Month

Do you know the five food groups?

March is Nutrition Month, which is the perfect time to take a closer look at something you probably learned in school years ago but may not have thought about recently: the five food groups.

Depending on your age, you may have been taught about the food groups using the Food Wheel, Food Guide Pyramid or MyPyramid. Today, the USDA’s MyPlate is used to teach nutrition in school. As the name suggests, MyPlate is an icon that shows a plate divided into five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Each group plays an important role in healthy eating. Groups are comprised of a range of foods that are similar in nutritional makeup, with some of the food groups being divided into subgroups emphasizing foods that are good sources of certain vitamins and minerals.


Fruits give you nutrients that are vital for your body, such as fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate. Dietary fiber from fruits may also help reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease. The fruit group includes two subgroups: whole fruit and fruit juice.

“We recommend that most of your fruit intake is whole fruit rather than fruit juice,” said Karen Pritts, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, Director of Clinical Nutrition and Diabetes at Penn Highlands Mon Valley. “One serving of fruit juice contains much more sugar than one serving of whole fruit. Whole fruit, including frozen fruits, are a good source of fiber which can help reduce cholesterol and lower the risk for heart disease.”


Vegetables are another important source of nutrients such as potassium, which may help maintain blood pressure, and vitamin A, which keeps your eyes healthy and protects against infections.

“Vegetables make up the biggest portion of the MyPlate icon, which means vegetables should also make up the biggest portion of your plate,” said Karen.

The vegetable group has several subgroups: dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach), red and orange vegetables (carrots, red peppers), starchy vegetables (white potatoes, corn, peas) and other vegetables (mushrooms, avocados). Fresh and frozen vegetables are the best choices for nutrients and fiber over those that are canned.


People who eat grains regularly may have a reduced risk of some diseases. Many grains are enriched with B vitamins, which help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Grains can be divided into whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm, while refined grains have been milled in a process that removes the bran and germ. Grains are milled to produce a finer texture and improve shelf life, but the milling process removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins, which is why nutritionists recommend eating more whole grains and less refined grains.

Whole grains include whole-wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice. Refined grains include white flour, white bread and white rice.


Proteins are building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, enzymes, hormones and vitamins. Most Americans get the right amount of protein from meat, poultry and eggs, but many Americans do not get the recommended amount of protein from seafood, nuts and seeds. You should eat a variety of proteins to get the nutrients your body needs. Dried beans and peas (lentils, kidney beans, navy beans) are also an excellent source of protein and fiber.

When eating meat and poultry, choose lean or low-fat options, such as 93% lean ground beef, pork loin and skinless chicken breasts. Good seafood options include those that are high in healthy fatty acids, such as salmon, anchovies and trout.


About 90% of Americans do not get enough dairy in their diet. Dairy helps build bones and teeth and keep them strong, especially in children and adolescents. As you age, dairy promotes bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

The dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, calcium-fortified soy, almond and oat milk and yogurt. Foods such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream and butter are not part of the dairy group because they have little calcium and a high fat content. When shopping for dairy products, look for fat-free and low-fat options.

Sometimes people need help in making good nutritional choices. Penn Highlands Healthcare provides nutrition specialists who help educate and counsel people on disease prevention/ management and ongoing nutrition guidelines. From diabetes management and celiac disease to weight management and eating disorders, the nutrition counselors at Penn Highlands Healthcare can teach you how to read food labels, understand carbohydrates and map out meal plans. They also can provide you with recipes that are easy, healthy and tasty. To learn more, visit

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