What is a healthy meal?

With our social media world and a wellness industry currently  worth 4 TRILLIONS DOLLARS, it’s easy to assume that a healthy meal “should” contain expensive superfoods.

In reality not at all. Keeping things simple is often more than fine.  

Of course you can add superfoods to your meal if you wish, but know that it isn’t always necessary. 

The content of your meal will dictate your mood, productivity, and food choices for the rest of the day, but also the quality of your sleep that night.

In recent years, research has shown how the state of our gut impacts our mental health. Your gut is essentially what you absorb from the foods you eat. So knowing how to compose your meals is a great way to ensure that you’re feeding both your body and mind the right way.

A very simple tool to track  the quality and impact of your meal on your body is to ask yourself these questions after your meal: Do I feel energised, alive and focused or do I feel tired, sluggish and grumpy?

What’s a healthy and balanced meal?

In our meals we want macro and micronutrients. Macronutrients are your proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. Micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals. They are called micro because they are needed in small quantities but are essential to our health. Macros are needed in much larger quantities.

Carbohydrates

We have two main types of Carbohydrates. Simple and Complex. It is best whenever possible to opt for complex carbohydrates for a slow release of sugar that will keep your blood sugar levelled and your energy balanced throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates will favour a rapid spike in blood sugar after your meal, and consequently a crash.

Some examples of Complex Carbohydrates are buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes, potatoes, wholewheat pasta, brown rice but also nutrients dense and fiber rich fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables contain most of our micronutrients. They are rich in antioxidants vitamin C, E, selenium, zinc as well as in Calcium, potassium, vitamin A and many more.

How much of them do you need? 

I advise my clients to aim for 6 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day, depending on where they are in their health journey and what we want to achieve. While 10 portions of fruits and vegetables may seem extreme at first, in reality it’s the equivalent of 2 handfuls of fruits in the morning, 4 handfuls of colourful veggies at lunch and 4 at dinner. 4 handfuls of colourful veggies= 2 whole carrots, 1handful of spinach, 1 handful of broccoli or cherry tomatoes. In summer, a nutrient rich salad will make it achievable and in winter a nice vegetarian curry or a gorgeous platter of roasted vegetables will definitely help you reach that amount.

This of course is an ideal, with a minimum being 5 portions of fruits and veg a day.

Protein

Proteins are essential in our diet because they play key roles to keep our body at optimal health. They transport and store nutrients, they act as messengers, they provide structure and support the body’s growth and maintenance.

Opt for a healthy and lean source of protein such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans, salmon, chicken, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, fish.

How much of them do you need? 

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults with minimal physical activity is 0.8g of protein per kg. Of course this increases with the level of activity but also in pregnancy. 

Protein deficiency is often due to poor diet or simply low protein intake and this may lead to: poor growth in younger individuals, hair breakage and loss, anemia, malabsorption and nutrient deficiency, cardiovascular dysfunction, loss of libido, infertility and much more.

 On the other hand, high protein intake may cause gastrointestinal discomfort, dehydration, renal dysfunction, vascular dysfunction, liver injury and more. 

If you are concerned about your protein intake, talk to your natural practitioner.

Lipids

Lipids  have a key role in our body optimal health. They regulate our body temperature, protect internal organs, carry nutrients, regulate hormones and store energy.

But not all lipids are created equal. 

The types of fats you want to stay away from or have in very small amounts are trans fats often used in packaged foods, fried foods, margarine and baked goods. Trans Fats increase inflammation in the body, raise cholesterol, and add oxidative stress to the body.

Studies on saturated fats use in our diets have been and still, are controversial. Use them sparingly. These are coconut oil, meat fat, lard.

Healthier fats to include in your diet are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, salmon, anchovies, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts.

How much of them do you need?

The National Health Service (NHS) recommends a maximum of 20-30g of saturated fats a day and a maximum of 5g of Trans Fat a day. It is also recommended to consume Oily fish 2-3x a week.

Plate composition

Plate composition may differ from a nutritionist to another, but a general rule of thumb is to aim for 50% vegetables and fruits 25% complex carbs 25% protein and drizzle with some fats of your choice. Good quality Olive, Avocado, Flaxseed Oil, nuts and seeds, avocado.

The medditeranean diet

A diet model often used as an example in nutrition both in NHS and in the naturopathic world is the meditteranean diet. The old school one 😉 The current meditteranean diet vary from one country to another and does not necessarily reflect what it once was. 

The bulk of the meditteranean diet comes from wholefood sources such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish and wholegrains. Olive oil is used as the principal source of fat. Fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts. Red meat intake is very low and red wine is drank sparingly with meals.

Studies have shown that this meditteranean diet has been associated with lower incidence of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

 

Processed foods

Now what about processed foods especially biscuits, sweets and baked goods? 

Do they have their part in our diets?

Well the truth is, you aren’t missing much if you don’t eat sugary foods and processed foods. Most processed foods are low in nutrients and the really sweet ones i.e sweetened cereals, biscuits, anything with tons of added sugars and additives put a burden on the immune system and dramatically raise our blood sugar level. Having them every now and then is OK but if they are part of our daily diet this could possibly cause health issues in the long run.

What’s best for you

Unless you’re followed by a qualified dietician or nutritionist or have been diagnosed with a specific condition that requires you to count your calories and remove certain foods, my recommendation is to apply the naturopathic rules above and follow your intuition. 

As a unique individual your needs and diet will vary from your friends and family.

Eat and enjoy real food and don’t forget to keep it simple.


If you are concerned about your nutrition, have been diagnosed with a condition or simply would like to educate yourself further on what foods are right for you, book a nutrition consultation with me here

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