A healthy balanced diet has become very confusing but it doesn’t have to be
With access to a wide range of information over the internet, it has become really hard to understand what exactly is a healthy and balanced diet and how we should be eating for good health, longevity and of course great skin;-)
So hopefully these following tips will simplify your approach to food and make meals composing a breeze.
The key nutrients
Essentially we want to make sure that our meals are well balanced and contain the 3 key macronutrients.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
But where things become a little complicated is to understand that not all carbohydrates, fats, or protein support our health optimally.
We have two types of carbohydrates. Complex and simple.
Simple carbohydrates often labeled “unhealthy” are found in white flour and sugar, so baked goods, biscuits, cakes , ice creams, pizzas etc. They are labeled “unhealthy” because in excess they can cause blood dysregulation, insulin resistance, inflammation, diabetes and more serious pathologies.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand steady our blood sugar levels, give us consistent energy and are often a great source of dietary fibre. Legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains are all complex carbohydrates.
Researchers suggest that the UK recommendation of 30g of fibre/daily, however hard to reach for many, may still be not enough and support Burkitt’s 50g/day to improve lifespan and quality of life (study).
A recent study has found that for every 10g of additional fibre there’s a 17-35% decrease of mortality risk of cardiovascular disease, as dietary fibre aids in lowering cholesterol, increasing satiety and therefore weight loss or healthy body weight maintenance and a decrease in inflammatory markers (study)
Proteins are mostly known for giving structure to our body, aiding in repair of cells, muscles and all tissues. Amongst other things they’re also involved in transporting substances around the body, immunity (antibodies), detoxification pathways and can be even used as an alternative (although less efficient) source of energy.
Proteins are found in meat, fish, eggs as well as in legumes, whole grains, edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, mushrooms. With plant-based sources of proteins, we want to be a bit more intentional with pairing and quantities, as certain plant foods have low amounts of essential amino acids (protein building blocks). In both cases focus on good quality protein. Meat, fish, and eggs ideally organic. Scrap heavily processed vegan meat full of additives and opt for beans, lentils, or tempeh.
A key tip in preventing cravings throughout the day is to make sure that your first meal of the day has an adequate amount of protein. This will prevent blood sugar imbalance, help steady your energy levels throughout the day, and as a consequence reduce cravings
Studies analysing dietary patterns in populations observed a tendency to consume the majority of our proteins in the evening meal, while new guidelines recommend an even distribution of proteins across 2-3 meals a day (study) so do pack it up at breakfast.
Fat from food is used for the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and can be used as an excellent source for energy production.
Fat plays a major role in cell membrane integrity, hormone production, nerve signaling, immunity.
Now not all fats are created equally. Here are the different types of fats
- saturated fats (solid at room temperature: butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard, fatty meat,)
- unsaturated fats (including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats – oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, flaxseed…)
- trans fats (fried foods, baked goods, processed foods, margarine…)
Saturated fats have been a controversial topic because for years they’ve been associated with increased cardiovascular disease. However, most recent studies suggest that the link between saturated fats and heart disease is not as simple, but replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats can indeed decrease cardiac events.
In conclusion, we want to limit trans fats, moderate our saturated fat intake and focus on sourcing good sources of polyunsaturated fat instead. Olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, and so on…
Make it easy, prep it
Now when it comes to composing meals that are healthy, tasty, and quick to put together, I swear by food prepping. Each weekend I take a couple of hours to prepare the “building blocks” for most of my meals.
Taking that 2 h during the weekend makes me save a huge amount of time in the week.
No faffing in the kitchen at breakfast or lunchtime wondering what to eat.
On a rotation, depending on what I fancy to eat that specific week I always have on hand:
- A source of protein:
This can be animal products, such as roasted chicken or any other poultry, eggs, salmon or plant-based, like quinoa, edamame, tempeh, lentils
- A grain:
Brown, red or black rice, quinoa are my go to. But millet, buckwheat, freekeh, and barley are also great options. These go with everything and will keep perfectly fresh in the fridge for up to 4-5 days so cook enough for a few meals
- A roasted tray of starchy vegetables:
Yam, plantain, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips…. Whatever is in season and available. I chop them in big chunks, season some fresh or dried herbs, chili, garlic, olive oil and in the oven they go!
- A roasted tray of non-starchy vegetables:
Broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbage, kale, leeks, aubergine, zucchini, tomato, green beans etc. You can also choose to consume things like kale and cabbage raw but make sure to massage them quite well with salt and lemon juice to help break it down, it makes it easier to digest as they’re so fibrous!
During the colder months, I prepare stews, curries, and slow-cooked meat in large quantities which I freeze for the following weeks.
It takes a couple of trials to find your groove with food prep, but once you get it, you are never going back to empty fridges and hours wondering what to eat.
Also having ingredients instead of full meals prepared will make your meals more versatile and exciting.
Breakfast the tricky one
Most of my clients struggle with breakfast, either because of lack of time or lack of inspiration.
Besides eggs, savoury and healthier breakfast options can be a bit of a headache to figure out. And the last thing you want in the morning is to spend time figuring it out.
And this is when having some foods prepped in the fridge can be really handy
Here are some breakfast ideas I swear by. They are balanced, filling, and energising.
- Lentils and Carrots wrap – Lentils and carrots cooked in advance. Add to a wrap with some avocado or a simple tahini dressing and some spinach.
- Sweet Potato and Mushroom Omelette – Sweet Potatoes roasted in advance
- Leftover soup and boiled egg
- Roasted tempeh and mixed vegetables
Sweet breakfasts don’t work for everybody, especially for those struggling with blood sugar dysregulation, cravings, fatigue, sleep dysregulation and so on.
Sweet breakfasts tend to cause blood sugar imbalance and more cravings later in the day.
As mentioned earlier, a balanced breakfast needs to have a great amount of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. All 3 will power your full body and help you stay focused.
But with sweet breakfasts, it’s a little harder to achieve.
A typical sweet breakfast of pastry/ Jam on toast and orange juice lack of nutrients.
A healthier version of classic sweet breakfasts: muesli fruits eaten with oat milk, and a side of fresh juice, though a bit more nutrient-dense is high in sugar and can cause blood sugar imbalance, mid morning cravings causing you to need coffee or a sugar kick.
A way to improve that would be to opt for Almond milk instead of oat milk, make sure the muesli is unsweetened and rely on the fruits as sweetener, add some almond butter, hemp seeds for fats and protein and swap the fruit juice for a smoothie in which you’d get some fibre because the fruits and veg would be whole.
To recap, you want your meals to be well composed of all three key macronutrients.
Not all fats, protein carbs are created equal.
Focus on complex carbs, healthy fats and good quality unprocessed protein.
Dietary fibre via legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains (30-50g/day) is vital to keep inflammation at bay, bowel moving regularly and occurence of disease low.
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