03/19/2012 05:33 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2012

5 New Food Groups Reveal 'Real' Eating Patterns: Study

Everything you thought you knew about the five food groups may be changing soon, according to researchers from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, who have identified five distinctive eating patterns that they say represent the real way people eat, and that are strongly influenced by age, race, region, gender, income and education.

The eating patterns or "food groups" are derived from a survey of more than 21,600 black and white adults aged 45 and older, which revealed Americans' tendency to eat one of the following: Southern fare, ethnic foods, healthy eats, sweets or alcohol.

Study author Suzanne Judd, Ph.D. says that unlike current nutritional guidelines, which are based on single foods and nutrients, these new food groups better represent how people eat, information she says will help researchers understand the role of diet in health and disease disparities.

Judd's findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions last week, and also shed some light on how race and income impact the food choices people make.

According to the study's 101-food frequency questionnaire, black people were more likely than whites to consume fried and processed foods and were the least likely to follow the alcohol dietary pattern.

In addition to blacks, men, residents of the southeastern U.S. and people making less than $35,000 per year consumed a largely Southern diet compared to those with both a higher income and more education.

The new food group research comes less than a year after the USDA replaced its long-standing food pyramid with the easier-to-follow "My Plate" model that they say reflects a healthier way for people to eat. It is unclear, however, whether Judd's research will have any impact on the USDA's recommendations.

In November, the nonprofit food and nutrition education organization Oldways introduced a similar report along with its African Heritage Diet Pyramid, based on the theory that black people can avoid diet-related health problems by returning to eating the way their ancestors did. The model incorporates foods not only from the African continent, but from the American South, the Caribbean and South America.

Here, a closer look at the five "real" food groups Judd and her team uncovered.