Healthy Habits: how to balance your plate
Long gone are the days where a healthy balanced meal was based around starchy foods, yet if you check out the UK’s National Health Service’s Eatwell Guide they recommend that we “base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates.” It also recommends that this should be a third of our meal, the largest part of our plate. This is outdated advice and not to be followed if you are looking to lose weight, improve your overall health, and beat cravings.
Most western meals are based on these guidelines. Whether its cereal, toast or muffins for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, or a dinner based on rice or pasta. Yes, eating this way is much more budget friendly because not only are these foods cheaper than more nutritious foods, but they also are more filling. Now when I say filling I am talking about at the time of the meal, but they don’t actually keep you filled for as long as other healthier foods would. But while they may be cheaper you will find you may get sick more frequently creating more costly doctor visits or spend more on junk food that you wouldn’t crave as much if you ate a balanced meal. When it comes down to it your diet determines you quality of life and can work as preventive medicine that is much cheaper than dealing with it after the fact with procedures and pharmaceuticals. A good healthy diet is worth spending more money on now for long term rewards.
So what is so bad about filling up on these starchy foods?
- they are made up of glucose molecules which is a type of sugar and the excess your body doesn’t use as an energy source converts to fat to be stored in various locations around your body
- modern grains contain fewer nutrients than other foods, so the more you fill up with these grains and starchy vegetables the less nutrient dense foods you eat and the more likelihood you have of being deficient in many important nutrients
- modern grains contain high levels of phytic acid which are anti-nutrients found in grains, seeds and nuts that prevent your body from absorbing essential nutrients which again can leave you deficient in essential nutrients that can contribute to many health problems (if you are interested to find out more about the negative effects of phytic acid, check out my previous post about soaking nuts and seeds, you can avoid the negative effects by fermenting your wheat and making sourdough bread)
This type of eating is so engrained into our culture, that it can be very hard to break from. You have to rethink the way you view a meal and break the habit of creating a meal based on starches.
A better balanced plate should contain at least one of each of the following categories:
If you think of the size of your whole plate, aim to cover the majority of your plate with vegetables. Vegetables are so important because they contain a majority of essential nutrients we need for our body to thrive. Plant based nutrients are also much easier for our body to absorb than processed ones sold as a daily vitamin or supplement.
Some easy veggies to include are:
- sautéed kale
- sweet potato
- green beans
- bell peppers
- brussel sprouts
- salads (spinach, romaine, rocket or other leafy green)
If you don’t have many veggies included in your diet now, try to add at least one more serving of vegetable to each meal than you normally would include. Breakfast will probably be the hardest meal to incorporate a vegetable into since they seem so odd to add to the normal breakfast foods. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post I am going to write about how to incorporate more veggies into your breakfast.
Protein contain essential amino acids which are the building blocks of our muscles and by including protein with each meal we keep ourselves fuller for longer. Since we aren’t as hungry, we won’t have as many cravings or desire to overeat the unhealthy nutrient void food which cause weight gain.
Some good animal based protein sources include:
- Fish, Shellfish, etc
- Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Goose, etc
- Organic Whole Fat Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, Kefir (choose raw where possible)
- Bone Broth
It’s always important to keep in mind that it is best when getting your animal based proteins to look for good quality, organic, grass-fed or pastured animals. With fish it’s always good to get wild caught rather than farm raised. Now I understand for a lot of people this may not be entirely possible. I get that. But I do encourage you to make the sacrifice in other areas of your budget to give you that little bit extra to get the good quality ingredients. Your body and health will thank you for it.
Those that swear by a plant-based diet have to pay even more attention to their protein intake because its a lot harder for them to get the amounts of protein required for their body to thrive. It’s definitely doable, just a bit more complicated.
Some good plant-based proteins include:
- Beans (black, kidney, chickpea/hummus, navy, pinto, etc)
- Nuts (almond, brazil, walnuts, pistachio, cashew, etc)
- Seeds (pumpkin, chia, sunflower, etc)
All of these sources though come from the ‘seed’ of a plant and therefore contain phytic acid and other anti-nutrients and need to be prepared correctly before eating to avoid ingesting high levels of this in your diet. This is especially important for vegetarian or others who eat very little meats.
Contrary to popular belief fat is GOOD for you and should be an essential part of every meal. Most fats can just be used during the cooking process.
Some healthy fats to add to your meal are:
- desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
- nuts/seeds (whole/butter)
- healthy oils (extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil or avocado oil)
- coconut oil, milk, butter
- animal fats (scraped from the top of your bone broth)
- whole fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese)
Instead of worrying about counting calories, try instead to balance your plate better with mostly vegetables and some protein and fats. Some of my meals include just these elements and no grains whatsoever, but sometimes we have grains with our meal. We have sourdough bread with our soups, rice as a side with a stroganoff or stir fry, or pasta underneath a generous portion of vegetable heavy Bolognese sauce. Instead of thinking of grains as the filler for your plate, think of vegetables as the filler. If you need more to fill out your meal, just plan another side of vegetable (some steamed broccoli or if you want something a bit heavier go for some roasted sweet potatoes.
If this idea is brand new to you just start small substituting one starchy food for a vegetable, add some protein and go from there.
I’d love to here from you whether it’s with questions or comments down below or you can meet up on Instagram and tag your balanced meals with #balanceyourplate.