The USDA’s Food Patterns encourage Americans to choose foods with the highest nutrient density. For calcium, dairy products are especially rich in this mineral, and so are eggs and cheese. Foods in this group contain plenty of calcium, and Americans should aim to get at least 10 grams of this nutrient per day. For example, a daily serving of milk is about one-third of your daily requirement.
USDA food patterns categorize foods based on traditional uses and nutritional content. For example, cottage cheese contains less calcium per cup than milk, but two cups of it provide the same amount of calcium as one cup of milk or 1.5 ounces of hard natural cheese. Cottage cheese counts as one-fourth cup of dairy, and fortified soy milk counts as a half-cup.
Dairy products are rich in calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. Dairy products should be part of a healthy diet, including those that are low-fat or lactose-free. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, are part of the Dairy Group. For a variety of calcium-rich alternatives, look for products fortified with these nutrients.
The USDA Food Patterns recommend that Americans consume the following food groups: fruits and vegetables, meat, and dairy, nuts, and seeds. The amounts of these food groups vary from calorie level to calorie level, but the recommended amount is the same. For each calorie level, Americans should eat 2.5 cups of fruit and vegetables, 6 ounces of whole grains, and three cups of dairy. The USDA Food Patterns can be found in Appendix 7 of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
If you don’t drink milk, you should also eat non-dairy calcium-rich foods. White beans, green peas, canned fish, and some soy products are all great sources of calcium. Another food to add to your diet is legumes, including kidney beans and tofu. For vegetarians, legumes make good sources of calcium. Beans and peas also count as part of the Vegetable Group.
If you want to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of calcium, it is important to know how to define which USDA food patterns group your milk and dairy products should belong to. The Food Patterns program provides recommendations for each food group based on calorie intake and tradition. For example, the USDA Food Patterns group fresh corn as a vegetable, while dried corn is a grain. Also, whole grains are higher in fiber than non-whole grain foods.
In the USDA Food Patterns, individuals are encouraged to eat the highest concentration of nutrients and to limit added sugars and saturated fats. The food groups are also organized based on a number of other factors, including age, physical activity level, and gender. This way, people can choose the foods that are most nutritious for them and still meet their caloric needs. The Food Patterns also specify the recommended amounts of each food group at various calorie levels.
There are five food groups, although they do not necessarily correspond to the Nutrition Facts Labels on packaged foods. Each group consists of a large variety of foods with similar nutritional makeup. There are also subgroups for various nutrients, such as saturated fat, and some foods emphasize certain nutrients. For example, beans and peas are included in the Protein Foods group but belong to the Vegetable Group.
The USDA’s food patterns list the recommended daily allowances of several food groups, including dairy. Each pattern lists recommended daily allowances for different calorie levels. For instance, two cups of cottage cheese contain the same amount of calcium as 1.5 ounces of hard natural cheese. Likewise, 1/2 cup of rice milk contains the same amount of calcium as two cups of whole milk. Nonetheless, it is important to know how to get a balance of these food groups in your diet.
In the USDA’s Food Patterns, targets for each food group are based on household units, such as cups or ounce equivalents. In other words, it is easier to eat two cups of fruit than to consume 75 milligrams of vitamin C or 25 grams of fiber. In addition, if you follow the USDA’s guidelines, you’ll be meeting your daily requirement of calcium.