How to Make a Balanced Meal

IMG_0260In terms of general nutrition, every meal should include three parts: A protein, A starchy/complex carbohydrate and fruit/Vegetable.

And as serving sizes go, aim for each item to be about the size of your palm, excluding the fingers.  Obviously, if you’re a six foot tall man, your palm will be larger than mine, a tiny, five-fiver.  Thus, the man’s serving will be proportionally larger than mine.

What is a protein?  A protein is any meat, poultry, dairy, legume (lentils/beans) and nuts, plus, tofu, seitan and soy.

What is a complex carbohydrate? A CC is a grain that has not had all outer fiber of the sheath of the kernel removed before grinding.  It will have a lot more fiber and nutrients than a finely ground white flour.  Try this test – put a bite of white bread (w/o crust) in your mouth and count how many chews it takes to dissolve.  Now put a bite of whole grain bread on (w/o crust) in your mouth and count how many chews it takes to dissolve.  In broad terms, fibrous, nutrient rich foods take longer to chew than highly processed fatty, sugary, low nutrient foods.  If you can inhale your meal in a minute chances are it’s not that good for you.  But if you find yourself chewing awhile, you probably are eating something your body will like and need.  Examples of Complex Carbohydrates are any whole grain including, wheat, corn, bugler, oats, amaranth, quinoa, but also, pasta, bread, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

The act of longer chewing actually aids digestion.  Ever eat a meal super fast and then twenty minutes later your stomach feels like it’s going to explode and you wonder, “why did I eat so much?”  Well, there is a chemical in your stomach, cholecystokinin that as food digests it is released to the brain to signal feelings of fullness and satiety.  If you eat really fast the chemical doesn’t have time to be released, so you end up eating way more than necessary.  Nutrient rich foods require you to chew them – thus they slow down your eating process and you regulate more naturally the proper portion size.

Get in the habit of identifying when you’re meal is balanced and when it is not.  Often “light options” on menus are deficient. They might be veggies and grain.  Classic example is a Portabello mushroom burger.  The bun is your starch, the mushroom is the veg…but where is the protein?  Combine that with the fact that this dish often comes with sweet potato fries.  So we’ve doubled up on the starch carb, (bun + sweet potato) and still no protein in sight.  Then we have dishes that are grilled steak with a mix of veggies.  Where now is the starchy carb?  On the other side of the spectrum are pasta dishes in a meat sauce accompanied by garlic bread.  Let’s just assume that the pasta is a real serving and not the serving for eight as it is in so many restaurants.  But again pasta + bread = 2 starchy carbs.  Meat sauce = protein. Where are the veggies?!

In the photo at the top I made a broccoli salad with apples, dried cherries and seeds tossed in a red wine or cider vinaigrette.  If I wanted to make this a main dish, I could add chicken or steak to it and serve it with whole grain flatbreads.  If I wanted to keep it vegetarian, I could add an egg or grilled tofu.  I also made a butternut squash soup.  Starchy carb but by itself it has little protein and no green veg.  So if I wanted it be my main course, I could have it with wilted spinach and a serving (12) of chopped nuts on top.  As it turns out I got fancy and combined both recipes to create balance:

I added an egg to the broccoli salad and some chopped almonds to the soup for my protein source.  I have fruit via the apples and dried cherries and I have veggies via the broccoli.  The squash/sweet potato soup was the starchy carb.

Dietary changes do not have to be drastic or dire.  Just paying attention to the balance of nutrients at each meal can help you feel better from the inside out!

Chronicles of Rehab: Part Four “How Did You Not Gain Weight When You Were Stuck on the Couch?!”

View from the sofa

View from the sofa

“How did you not gain weight when you were stuck on the couch?!” I got asked this question over and over and over and the truth is it was pretty easy not to.  Just because you might not be able to exercise or work for that matter does not mean you need to throw all good principles aside. For myself I tried to keep close to my normal schedule. I went to bed around 11pm and woke up around 7am.  I ate breakfast when I woke up and it didn’t consist of cold pizza and Coco Puffs! Lunch came about 4-5 hours later, afternoon snack 4-5 hours after that and the dinner followed predictably in due course. This approach seems like a no-brainer to me.  The regular input of  balanced nutrient-rich foods spurred what some may call a miraculous, speedy and complete recovery.  I would argue that my recovery was “optimal” not miraculous.  That means that everyone’s body would respond in like fashion when you nourish it!

Additionally, from a mental health perspective being a prisoner of your couch can be depressing!  I was not without repeated bouts of tears of frustration.  But then I thought, “I am getting better every day.  I am in my own house from which I have a lovely, peaceful view.  I am able to eat foods that I love and are prepared with care and I have the support of my friends and family.  Some people are stuck in a hospital bed and are not getting out anytime soon.”  So after my epiphany and self pep-talk and realization of all the things I had to be grateful for, I got on with the healing process.  Great food choices chemically assist in the battle of the mood swings in your brain.  Again, keeping to a great diet, that was balanced in terms of portion sizes and nutrients helped my mental state to stay optimistic and thus, boosted my healing.

Perhaps the one thing I did do that might not seem so obvious was I did NOT leave the T.V. on all day long.  In fact, it was turned off most of the time as I chose instead to work on the computer, read a magazine, renew my certifications, build a website, write a book, etc.  The benefit to this was that I was not constantly bombarded by advertisements about fast food, salty foods, or any kind of food.  We as humans are very stimulated by visual mediums, so when you see food in front of you constantly, guess what happens…you want to eat…constantly. Plus, I think I got smarter from all the reading I did – so my body healed quickly and my brain was stimulated too.

So to recap here’s my suggestions to anyone facing enforced couch time, whether from a physical disability or work layoff or illness:

1) Stay rested and keep your sleep schedule in tact.  Don’t oversleep or under sleep. Try to get 7-8 hours/night and try to maintain your set routine.

2) Keep eating balanced, appropriately portioned, nutrient rich meals.  It promotes health (body and mind) from the inside out.

3) Turn off the TV!  I am certain there are 1000 things you can find to do to pass the time and give your brain some healthy fuel choices too!

4) Don’t decide that because one piece of the puzzle isn’t there that you can’t make out the beautiful view of the rest of the layout.  In other words, just because you can’t exercise doesn’t mean you have to give up every other basic tenant to healthy living!