By Bridgette Ruge Barlow, MA, CPT, RHC
What exactly IS a balanced meal and how to I make one?
We have all heard the term “balanced meal” but how many of us knows what that means? Does it mean eating fruit with every meal? Does it mean ensuring you have a cup of dairy with lunch? Does it mean having lots of healthy grains for energy with each meal? If you think the answers to those questions is yes, you’re in for a nice lesson about nutrition and blood sugar.
First, let’s look at a very basic concept that will keep your blood sugar stabilized and eliminate crashes in energy, focus and concentration. If you remember nothing else about nutrition, remember this concept and live by it. When we eat carbohydrates, there is a spike up in a hormone calledinsulin. This initially makes us feels good and energized but leads to a crash in blood sugar that leaves us feeling symptoms of brain fog, cravings, and mood swings—leading us to reach for that soda, cup of coffee or candy bar (which furthers the problem and puts weight on. Yikes!). Over time, spiking the insulin too high can cause the body becomes more desensitized to insulin leading to insulin resistance, and eventually Type 2 diabetes.
You can get off that rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows by remembering one simple rule–eat protein with your carbohydrates! Protein will automatically lower the glycemic index of carbohydrates and lessen the insulin spike (and if you’re at all interested in weight loss, you DO NOT want insulin spikes). An ideal ratio of carbs to protein is 1:1, meaning for every say 15 grams of carbs, you need about 15 grams of protein for a perfect balance! Now, take this a step further by making sure to eat veggies at every single meal, comprising about half your plate! Watery, non-starchy vegetables do not count toward your grams of carbs. So, eat them freely! Your brain and waistline will thank you!
Imagine your plate like this—50% vegetables and low sugar fruits (berries are best), 20- 25% protein (meat or beans), and 20- 25% complex carbohydrates (think starchy vegetables like sweet potato, beets, carrots, peas, etc that contain FIBER, over white bread, white rice, white pasta), and 5-10% fat (about a tablespoon of oils, nuts or seeds, ¼ avocado, ¼ cup coconut milk, etc). Leave out the dairy to decrease inflammation and reduce or eliminate the carbs if you are trying to lose weight (replace with healthy fats).
Divide your plate in your mind and make it resemble this picture. If you eat this way, you will stay sharp, focused, and maybe even lose a little weight!
Sample Packable meals that follow this model:
- Smoothie with frozen berries and fresh spinach, a scoop of protein powder, 1 cup almond milk, ice.
- Salad with 2-3 cups of fresh greens, 4-6 oz chicken breast, ¼- ½ cup of cooked quinoa, homemade salad dressing made with olive oil, tablespoon of nuts/seeds.
- ½ cooked cubed sweet potato, cup of cooked kale, tablespoon of melted butter, with a beef patty or salmon fillet.
½ cup whole grain pasta mixed with a cup of chopped veggies of choice and ½ cup shredded or diced chicken, olives, and a simple dressing made with healthy olive or avocado oil, lemon, garlic, and spices.
If you’re trying to boost cognition, be sure to include in your meals lots of omega 3’s like salmon, walnuts, sardines, organic soybeans, eggs, and chia seeds or take an Omega 3 supplement such as MD Prescriptives Rx Omega.
When it comes to creating a meal, always remember to PLAN AHEAD and don’t eat from the vending machine or the fast food restaurant. Pack your own food for school and work to ensure you are getting a proper balance. Also, leave out the processed and prepackaged foodswhich will only make you foggy, sluggish, fat, and unproductive.