The Basics of a Healthy Meal Plan

Quite awhile ago, I wrote an article about the importance of a balanced meal. I don’t think it’s healthy to eliminate a food group…i.e., “Low Carb,” “Low Fat,” etc. We need a balanced amount of carbs, protein, and fat in our daily meals. (There are more complications in sports nutrition, as there are different things you should eat before/after working out, for muscle soreness and recovery, etc. But, I will discuss this in a later article.) For the most part, to have a steady stream of energy throughout the day, you need a balanced combination of all the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat).
In the video, I also discuss what a protein really is. There is the common misconception that a complete protein only comes from animal sources. (If this were true, vegans would die very quickly.) For an in-depth look at protein, you can also check my older article on the basics of protein.
For true health and vibrance, many people forget about the importance of micronutrients. These are all the vitamin and mineral buzzwords you’ll see on a food package. Vitamin D, electrolytes, Vitamin C, potassium, B-Vitamins, etc. You get the idea. These can be found in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, but also in nuts, seeds, and legumes. People tend to concentrate on the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat.) But, we would be able to just manufacture a fake, perfect food source if these elements were the only important aspect of a healthy diet. The micronutrients, fiber, and clean water that fruits and vegetables provide are essential for good health.

So here is my video discussion of a balanced meal.

Feeling Full and Satisfied with Food

The latest fad diets are hard to ignore. They are plastered in front of our faces on magazine covers, commercials, blogs, internet ads, books, and grocery stores. Low Carb? Low Fat? Paleo? Separating carbs and protein? Raw Food? HOW DOES A PERSON KNOW WHAT TO EAT????

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but luckily science can come to the rescue. Nutritional studies come out with new findings every year, but there are some basic facts that can help sort through the endless information available. One tool: the basics of energy metabolism. This can be quite simple, and doesn’t have to be a long, boring science lecture.

The basic idea: To get the most satiation and satiety (fullness right after a meal, and the length of time you stay satisfied), it is beneficial to have carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber in your meals. Different foods serve different purposes, and you can have eat a snack with only protein or only carbs and survive. But if you want to feel satisfied and full, it’s important to include a bit of everything. (Also, vegetables are the magic ingredient!) Here’s why:

Vegetables: They contain a lot of fiber and very few calories. The fiber and bulk of vegetable roughage causes a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, and supplies the body with a range of nutrients.
Eating only vegetables: You may feel full initially, but your body will quickly use the calories and you will soon be hungry. Also, with so few calories, a meal of purely vegetables lacks the energy it takes to be active.
Too few vegetables: You may take in too many calories, since it will take a lot of protein and fat to feel full. Fiber is super important for digestion, and the diverse micronutrients will satisfy your body’s needs, making you feel more satisfied.

Carbs: Starch and Carbohydrates provide the most immediate energy source. The body breaks them down quickly, and the calories are soon available for use. This means that you feel more full faster, and can start using the energy right away.
Too many carbs: If your meal contains too much starch, you will have a lot of energy available immediately; but if you don’t use it quite quickly it will be stored as fat.
Too few carbs: If you eat too little starch, it will be more difficult to feel full, and you may eat too many calories before feeling satiated (satisfied).

Quiche with goat cheese and spinach, salad with basil pesto dressing. A beautifully balanced meal from my new favorite restaurant, WeHo Bistro.

Protein: This includes any complete amino acid chain, including vegetables sources. Beans, hemp, soy, and eggs all count as protein. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, so the energy becomes available awhile after you eat. To feel fuller longer, this is a good thing. If protein is in your meal, once the energy from a carb spike drops, the energy spike from protein kicks in.
Too much protein: Too much protein (especially animal protein) causes free radicals in your blood. Free radicals are bodily chemicals that will run free and ravage the body, causing various diseases and harm. Most Americans test too high in blood protein.
Too little protein: If you don’t have enough protein in a meal, (i.e. your meal is purely starch), your blood sugar may drop, and you can become irritable and hungry faster.

Fat: Poor dietary fat. It has gotten the worst rap among “health food” and diet advocates. But, our body needs a certain amount of dietary fat. Fat gives us energy, and fatty acids (like Omega 3) promote brain activity. Plus, fats make us feel more full for longer. Studies show that people who follow a low-fat diet get hungry faster, feel unsatisfied, and end up eating more calories in a day than those who don’t eliminate fat. Since the “low-fat” craze of the 90’s, heart disease has actually been on the rise.
Fat takes the longest to provide energy to our body, so after your carb energy spike and protein energy spike have subsided, the energy spike from fat kicks in. So this provides a longer satiety (length of satisfaction and fullness from a meal), and may make you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks in between meals.
Too much fat: Before you pour cream and bacon on your pasta in excitement, know that you can eat too much fat. It is 9 calories per gram (compared to protein and carbs which have 3 calories per gram), so you can go overboard. It may make you feel sluggish or overly full, and excess calories can be stored as body fat. Plus, fat quality is important. Cold-pressed olive oil and coconut oil are different than toxic margarine, canola oil, and bacon fat. So choose quality of quanity.
Too little fat: Your cells need fat for energy, building, and repair. Too little fat means you may get hungry too soon after a meal, and reach for unhealthy snacks. The minerals and hormones produced by your thyroid can also become off-balance. Too little Omega 3 can result in memory problems. So, add some olive oil to your brown rice, or some raw butter to your asparagus.

Sugar: Energy from sugar is the available the quickest, but this is only beneficial if you need immediate energy without the desire of a full belly (like when you’re running a marathon or riding a bike.) The sugar provides immediate energy for use, without the body needing to “waste energy” digesting. But if you don’t use the energy immediately, it will cause an insulin spike and store the extra energy as fat!