Eating a variety of foods from the 4 main food groups in the recommended serving sizes makes sure you get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Key points about food groups and serving size
- Eating well helps you maintain a healthy body weight and prevent health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or heart disease. It's also key to good mental wellbeing.
- The 4 main food groups are vegetables and fruits, grain foods, milk and milk products, and a group of foods consisting of legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry and/or red meat with the fat removed.
- Eating the recommended number of serving sizes of each food group each day is the best way to get all the nutrients you need.
- Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time so you don’t end up buying food that might not be a healthy option.
Why is healthy eating important?
What you eat and the way you cook your food can affect your overall health and wellbeing. Unhealthy food choices, not enough physical activity and obesity can increase the risk of health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and a range of cancers.
Plan your meals and snacks (if you need these) ahead of time so you don’t end up having to buy food when you’re out that's not a healthy option. Once you’ve planned meals for one week you can make slight changes for the following weeks to make sure you have variety.
Make plain water your first choice over other drinks. If you drink alcohol, keep your intake low and don't drink it if you are pregnant.
Choose and/or prepare foods and drinks:
- with unsaturated fat (eg, canola oil, olive oil, margarine) instead of saturated fat (eg, butter, cream, coconut oil)
- that are low in salt (sodium)
- with little or no added sugar
- that are mostly ‘whole’ and less processed.
Prepare, cook and store food in a way that ensures it is safe to eat.
What are the different food groups?
The 4 different food groups are:
- vegetables and fruit
- grain foods
- milk and milk products
- legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry and/or red meat with the fat removed.
What is the recommended serving size for each food group?
The Eating and activity guidelines for NZ adults from the Ministry of Health recommends different serving sizes for each food group so you get all the nutrients you need. The recommended serving size for each food group varies for different age groups, genders and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The table below shows the current recommended serving size per day for each food group for most adults:
Number of servings per day
|Vegetables||At least 5 servings for women and 6 for men. It is healthier to have more non-starchy vegetables than starchy vegetables on your plate.|
|Fruit||At least 2 servings.|
|Grain foods, mostly whole grains and those naturally high in fibre||At least 6 servings for most adults. For older women aged 51–70 years, 4 servings are recommended instead of 6 as they have reduced physical activity and energy expenditure.|
|Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry and/or red meat with the fat removed||At least 2.5 servings.|
|Milk and milk products, mostly low and reduced fat||At least 2.5 servings. For older women aged 51–70 years, 4 servings are recommended instead of 2 to help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis after menopause.|
How much is a serving?
While it’s good to choose a variety of foods, it’s also important to keep food serving sizes appropriate to your body size. Too large a serving of some foods can cause weight gain.
Use the guide below to help you work a serving. This is a guide only. Taller and more active people may need more. Follow your body’s hunger and fullness queues as a guide for how much you need.
Image: Healthy eating, healthy living HealthEd, NZ, 2010
The following links provide further information about food groups and serving size. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
- Eating and activity guidelines for NZ adults Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
|Amanda Buhaets works as a liaison dietitian for the Auckland District Health Board. Her role includes supporting primary care and public health programmes with up-to-date nutrition information. She has a special interest in child health and supporting health professionals to have successful conversations to whānau about health and lifestyle.|
|Julie Carter works as a liaison dietitian for the Auckland District Health Board. Her role focuses on improving nutrition environments, sustainable food, food systems and food security, and connecting these into a range of health and other settings.|